Pickpocketing - How To Pick Pockets

This article is not about learning how to steal from people. It is wholly concerned with “theatrical pickpocketing” - an art of “stealing” items from spectators on stage for entertainment purposes - and then returning them. It is an allied branch to magic due to the use of sleight of hand and misdirection to accomplish the feats demonstrated.


The publisher assumes no responsibility for the misappropriation of the techniques described, nor can Vanishing Inc. be held responsible for any application of pickpocketing techniques used to steal or cheat people of their personal property. The content of this article is strictly for entertainment purposes, to be used on spectators with whom the performer has obtained prior consent. All borrowed articles are always returned unharmed to their owners.

The History of Theatrical Pickpocketing

Compars Hermmann and Alexander Herrmann (his younger brother) both performed pickpocket acts as publicity stunts for their magic shows.

The first known performer to center their act around theatrical pickpocketing was Fred Brezin. Originally from France, Fred Brezin lived and performed in London and by 1906 billed himself as “The Original And First Pickpocket”.

Dr Giovani was performing a full pickpocket act on stage in London in 1929, his show ran until well into the 1940s.

In America, Walter Sealtiel was doing his pickpocket act in New York from 1929.

Borra demonstrating theatrical pickpocketing

After the end of World War II, stage pickpocketing really had its heyday. A Serbian performer, living in Austria, Borislav “Borra” Milojkowic, was a star of night clubs, variety shows and circuses throughout Europe. For 60 years, he was billed as “Borra - The King Of Pickpockets” and was the highest-paid circus performer in Europe. He taught his act to his son, Charly who called himself The Prince Of Pickpockets.

Henry Kassagi, a French-Tunisian illusionist was the pickpocket advisor on the 1959 film Pickpocket by Robert Bresson. He also appeared in the film as the instructor and accomplice to the protagonist.

More recently, in Roman Polanski’s 2005 film adaptation of Oliver Twist, UK magician James Freedman created the pickpocket sequence.

American magician David Avadon used pickpocketing as the trademark of his act for over 30 years and promoted himself as “a daring pickpocket with dashing finesse” and “one of the few masters in the world of this underground art”.

Thomas Blacke, an American magician and world-record holding pickpocket says that it has become more and more difficult to perform pickpocketing on stage—or in the street—because the public now wear less, and lighter, clothing.

The modern expert of theatrical pickpocketing is undoubtedly Apollo Robbins. He was thrust into the public eye when he stole President Carter’s itinerary and the keys to his motorcade from Secret Service agents!

He not only then began to consult for security and police organizations, but also was busy performing. His TED talk on The Art Of Misdirection from 2013 has been viewed over 30 million times.

How To Pickpocket

As explained at the start of Derren Brown’s shows, the techniques used to pickpocket are a blend of misdirection, sleight of hand, and psychology.

Here are the basic steps.

  • Choose your “victim” wisely. You need to find someone who appears to be game for a laugh, someone that will enjoy the process. They should appear relaxed and happy to have some fun with you.
  • Get close to that person. This will happen naturally during the course of specific magic routines.
  • Get the person used to being touched. Apollo Robbins is a master of this touch conditioning technique.
  • Gently and carefully remove the item you wish you pickpocket from the person swiftly and fluidly. Use misdirection to make sure they are concentrating on something else. Perhaps a coin you have told them will vanish. Get started with a phone or wallet as these are smooth and easier to remove than a watch or tie.
  • Secret the “stolen” item about your person and prepare to reveal it later.

These are, of course, the very basics. If you are interested in learning more about theatrical pick pocketing, we would strongly recommend the brand new book by FISM Grand Prix winner, HĂ©ctor Manca.

The Wonderous World Of Pickpocketing

Books on Pickpocketing

Mancha, HĂ©ctor. The Wonderous World Of Pickpocketing. Vanishing Inc. Magic, 2022.

Avadon, David. Cutting Up Touches: A Brief History of Pockets and the People Who PIck Them. Squash Publishing, 2007.

Downhill, Eric. Spot Goes Pickpocketing on the Tube.

Dunn, Ricki. The Professional Stage Pickpocket. Neilson Magic, 2006.

Jacques, Pierre. Complete Course In Pick Pocketing. Tannen’s Magic Manuscript, 1983

Josseph, Eddie, and Roger Crosthwaite. Pickpocket. Cymys, 1975.

Ravel, Jim and Paul Butler. Jim Ravel’s Theatrical Pickpocketing. Magical Publications, 1988.