What Is The First Magic Trick Ever?
From card tricks to the linking rings, cut and restored rope, pulling a rabbit out of a hat, levitating and even sawing a lady in half, magic has so many recognizable illusions that have been featured in magic books and performed for centuries. In fact, most of the modern magic tricks we sell in our online magic shop, even those that use technology like magic apps, can trace their lineage back centuries.
But, what was the first magic trick ever performed?
Today, we explore literally the “oldest trick in the book.”
What is the First Magic Trick Ever
Magic tricks have been around for 1,000s of years. In fact, many believe that the first recorded act of magic appeared in a wall drawing nearly 5,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt where a magician named Dedi was drawn performing the classic cups and balls magic trick.
Over the years, some historians have debated the interpretation of these drawings, claiming that Dedi may have actually been performing a similar, but different, magic trick. However, it’s still very likely that the cups and balls was one of the first ever magic tricks (and continues to be one of the best-selling parlor magic tricks that can be seen regularly in some of the best magic shows in NYC and around the world.)
The first official account of the cups and balls, though, is credited to a group of roman magicians known as The Acetabularii who used stones and small vinegar cups to perform this amazing magic trick between 50 and 300 A.D. This would still make the cups and balls the first true sleight of hand magic trick.
That “sleight of hand” distinction is key because the first known magic prop may have actually been invented between the time of Ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire. It was a vessel that magically refills itself known as the “Lota Bowl” and it is believed to have first appeared around 3,000 B.C.
The Early Years of Magic Tricks
Magic was not always seen as a form of entertainment. For many years, it was associated with the occult and even feared by the public. Until the late 16th century, many magicians were considered sorcerers and witches, and were often persecuted by the church and authorities.
In 1584, Reginald Scot helped dispel these beliefs when he published The Discoverie of Witchcraft. Believed to be the first magic trick book, this iconic text revealed how these “witches” and “sorcerers” were actually just magicians using clever tricks to deceive the public. While this helped put an end to the “witch-hunt” of magicians, it unfortunately gave them another negative connotation of being con artists and charlatans.
Magic as Entertainment
Around the turn of the 19th century, magic finally began to come into favor with modern audiences. Many magic historians credit Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin for leading this charge. Instead of performing common street scams by cheating at cards, he took his magic from the street to the stage with lavish magic illusions that made him one of the most popular magicians in the world.
Around this same time, Alexander Herrmann (otherwise known as “Herrmann the Great”), helped shape the classic “image” of a magician. Donning his signature top hat and tailcoat, the french magician helped bring the idea of a magic entertainer into the mainstream.
When it comes to the most well-known magician of all time though, that title belongs to Harry Houdini. His amazing magic and incredible escape acts transcended the often niche magic community. He was beloved around the world and helped cement magic’s place as a form of entertainment.
Today, performance magic can be found everywhere from Broadway theaters to YouTube Channels with millions of subscribers. This surge in popularity can largely be attributed to a revolution started by legendary Las Vegas Magician David Copperfield. He brought magic into the mainstream with his TV specials and mind-boggling illusions such as making the Statue of Liberty disappear.
However, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, magic started to garner a reputation for being corny—mostly due to the fact that many magicians were performing the same cliché magic tricks using outdated and culturally irrelevant props. Thankfully, in the late 90’s, two things happened that changed the course of magic history.
In 1997, Magician Val Valentino (known better as “The Masked Magician”) began revealing the secrets to magic’s most famous tricks on his television show Breaking the Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed. While this show was a smash-hit among non-magician audiences, it angered many magicians—eventually leading them to ostracize Valentino from the magic community. While the ethics of revealing the secrets to magic tricks can be debated forever, it is undeniable that this show forced many magicians to become more creative and innovative.
Enter David Blaine. While many people know him for his stunts like being buried alive or his death-defying balloon flight over the Arizona desert, it’s his first TV special in 1996, David Blaine: Street Magic, that changed magic forever.
David Blaine made magic cool again by ushering in a new form of close-up magic called “Street Magic” The live audiences were not only inches away from the magic, but the cameras also focused on their reactions so the audience at home could experience the magic through them.
Without David Blaine’s Street Magic specials, some might argue that TV shows like, Criss Angel’s Mindfreak, Michael Carbonaro’s The Carbonaro Effect or Justin Willman’s Netflix show Magic for Humans may have never happened. In fact, Mat Franco or Shin Lim may have never even had a chance to win America’s Got Talent either.
So, from the days of Ancient Egyptian wall paintings to talented magicians regularly pushing the envelope on Penn & Teller: Fool Us, magic continues to evolve. And, while the first magic trick ever performed is set in stone, we’re excited to see what exciting new magic tricks are around the corner.