Big Friday sale

The Ultimate Bill Switch by Kevin King

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii December, 2005)


In 1977, Mike Kozlowski released his manuscript, The Hundred Dollar Bill Switch, and the repertoires of countless contemporary close-up workers was forever changed. The basic concept of the effect—the exchange, via a thumbtip, of two bills while folding and unfolding them— appears to have been the creation of a Russian Cossack circus performer who, while touring the United States in the late 1970s, showed it to a number of American magicians. Whether he actually explained the method remains unclear, but several magicians reconstructed their own versions of the handling, including Mr. Kozlowski, whose manuscript preceded any other published version by at least four years.

Since its release in 1977, numerous variants—some legitimate, some gratuitous, some with credits, some without, and some with perversely revisionist credits—have appeared in the magic literature, as well as on instructional videotapes; doubtless many magicians associate this trick with Michael Ammar or Roger Klause rather than with Mr. Kozlowski, much less a Russian Cossack. The various effects developed around the bill switch are much more interesting than all of this jockeying over whose name will prevail in this game of consensus reality over credit for the method. Excellent routines relying on the basic technique have been published by a number of magicians—Paul Gertner and John Cornelius among them—who, thankfully, have declined to redescribe the original technique. Roger Klause's effect, The Name Remains the Same, also belongs on this particular list. Several magicians have performed some version of the effect on national television, including Harry Anderson, who debuted the Howard Lyons mis- made bill effect (marketed, along with some clever routining innovations, by Jim Lewis). A few performers have assembled novel presentations for the trick, rather than technical refinements: Scotty York, Gaetan Bloom, Derek Dingle, and Bruce Cervon come to mind.

Last year I had the pleasure of performing and lecturing at the Close Encounters of the Magic Kind convention in Rochester, New York, where I met Kevin King, a professional close-up magician and comedy club performer. There I saw his variant handling of the bill switch, which I immediately found notable because it really did look different from the minor mutations that have spread, virus-like, through the literature in recent years. In Mr. King's hands, the final change of the bill looks like trick photography—there are fewer discrete steps as the metamorphosis approaches and then occurs. And so, when I learned that Mr. King had released his handling, I rushed to obtain the manuscript.

Mr. King has produced a rather minimal, low-tech description of his legitimately interesting contribution to the original switch. Unmistakably, his approach is an improvement. Once the bill is folded into eighths, it fluidly and almost immediately transforms into the differing value, without pauses. Michael Ammar, in The Magic of Michael Ammar (L&L Publishing, 1991), stresses the importance of de-emphasizing the moment of the switch. Mr. King has achieved this goal in spades, with two simple changes: the starting orientation of the bill to be switched in, and the fingering during the folding from eighths to sixteenths and back to eighths; this latter step is reduced to a point where it appears not be exist at all in Mr. King's approach.

If you have previously mastered the Kozlowski Hundred Dollar Bill Switch, you should have little difficulty incorporating Mr. King's refinements. While the changes may seem a bit uncomfortable at first—especially the changes in fingering—it shouldn't take long to adopt these small alterations, and I believe they will improve the look of the switch in every case. However, for those who have not previously mastered the switch, I am not confident that Mr. King's manuscript should be relied on as a sole teaching source. While the student will doubtless find his way through the entire handling with this source alone, I do not think a fully nuanced and finessed handling would result, especially considering the rather mysterious fact that despite the volume of quality explanations of the trick in the literature, one sees so very few magi actually perform the switch well. Rather, I would encourage the student—perhaps even some of those who think they have previously mastered the switch—to consult the original Kozlowski manuscript (still available from Magic, Inc. in Chicago), wherein he or she will find a minimum of hype and a maximum of detail. That author's complete catalog of finesse and refinements render the switch invisible and graceful, courtesy of, among other things, the brief trapping of the tip between the bills, and the fact that the bill is never completely hidden from the spectator's view throughout the handling. Mr. Ammar's aforementioned description is also quite detailed; while some of the claimed improvements can be located in the original manuscript, Mr. Ammar does contribute a couple of new touches, and his theoretical discussion makes an excellent companion to Mr. Kozlowski's own in-depth theoretical and presentational analysis. I highly recommend the careful study of these background materials in order to give this technique the adequate consideration it warrants, and to most effectively incorporate Mr. King's decidedly valuable refinement. He has certainly brought us the most significant technical improvement since Mr. Kozlowski's original version burst upon the scene, and why not add another name to the pot—the more the merrier, as the saying goes.

ERRATA: Last month I mistakenly attributed the line "I use my powers only for good" to Emo Phillips. Indeed, Mr. Phillips has been ripped off by countless magicians—

"Everyone who believes in psychokinesis, raise my hand" is in fact his—but in this case, next time you hear someone use the "powers for good" line, you may inform the culprit that the line was misappropriated from the inimitable Mr. John Carney, who deserves this particular credit. If that's not your name, you have no right to use the line—even though it appears in the book I discussed. Oddly enough, this correction was not offered by the "author" of the book in question.

8-1/2" x 11" saddle stitched; 8 pages; 9 line drawings; 1995; Publisher: Kevin King