And now we come to one of the most interesting and most important developments in Magic — the development of "The Black Art Table". This is a splendid revelation of how a new thought will usher in a new era in Magic.
In the early days the magician came to the conclusion that a table could be used to make articles vanish or appear, or for substituting one thing for another. To aid his work, that is, to help conceal his apparatus and assistant, he draped his table to the floor. In the top of the table he placed trap doors. Under the table he had his concealed assistant operate the traps and appear, disappear or change articles on the table at will. If the performer wished to make an orange disappear, he had but to cover the orange with say a metal cone, signal his assistant and cause the orange to disappear under the table.
Then as time went by another magician said to himself why not do away with the long draped tables and concealed assistants. Traps could be used successfully with shorter drops and by having a cloth bag beneath each trap to catch the object dropped through the trap. So magic took a new turn and the stage settings took on a new appearance. The work of the assistant under the table was substituted by mechanical contrivances under the table top. Clever mechanical contrivances were brought into being to make an object appear, disappear or change. And it does not seem so long ago, either, that wrist traps, changing traps, etc., held their due place in the magical dealer's catalogue.
Robert Houdin in his theatre in Paris used to make good use of traps in his center and side tables. I have been in his theatre long after he was dead and gone, but have seen the same tables that he used. A modern magician was performing while I was there. He used side tables fastened to the side walls and it was an easy matter to drop an article through a trap and have it slide back to the assistant behind the scenes waiting to receive it.
Then along came a bright genius who said: "Why have traps in a table?" Why not just have holes with cloth bags inserted and disguise the holes. And it was by this reasoning that this genius developed the famous "Black Art Table Top". The top has holes of various sizes here and there with a cloth bag under each to catch any object dropped therein. The hole plus the pocket is called a "well". The
top is covered with black cloth such as black velvet, and the pockets are black and of similar material. Around the edge of wells bright colored braid such as gold or white is fastened. The braid in turn is evolved into some design on the table. The contrast between the black top and bright trimming confuses the eye and the hole in the table at a slight distance away has the same appearance as the top. Magicians have concealed black art wells ingeniously with clever designs. The wells may be round or square, rectangular, octagonal or triangular. The round well used to be preferred. Then came a rage for the square ones, perhaps with the illusionary idea that holes were usually thought of as round and the square was not commonly associated with them. But regardless of shape the black art well was well received in magic and the black art table became a prominent and essential part of the professional magician's equipment. The black art well is a good magic adjunct, as tables are not associated in the popular mind with having holes in them. Tables are in common use and have a flat, level surface.
MY "SOCIETY SPECIAL" TABLE
The style of table I use came about somewhat from necessity because in playing to society my object was to crowd as much into small space as possible, having it as light as possible, yet rigid and strong, have it attractive in appearance, yet contain three noiseless black art wells, a special slot in the rear of table top for concealing extra cards, also a special servante if needed. My "Society Special" weighs only about four pounds, and is easily slipped into a suitcase. It can be set up or taken down quickly. A pair of tables adds to the stage settings.
I have had many kinds of tables, heavy and light ones. Some were like lugging around anvils. Others were light but they wiggled and wobbled, necessitating keeping one eye on a trick and the other on the table to see that it wouldn't tip over.
I shall never forget my first black art table. I was so proud of it. During my performance I was to make a glass vanish. So under cover of a piece of paper I dropped it into a well. When it reached the bottom of the pocket in the well, it jarred the table, which came down with a thud very perceptible even to the audience. The table top was an excellent sounding board. It was truly a noisy table, and seemed to be anxious to notify the audience that something had happened.
But with the "Society Special" I can go about my work without any worry of jarring sounds or wobbles. It is as easy to vanish a glass as a paper wad. I have a good flange that attaches tightly to the upright part of stand and the bottom has a wide spread and touches the floor in three places only, which adapts it to uneven floors.
Fig. 1 gives you an idea of the appearance of the table. It is impossible to do justice to it with a pen and ink drawing to show the attractiveness of the nickeled stand, the velour trimmed with braid, and the black velvet top trimmed with gold braid. The drape in shape is just the same that table would have if a square piece of cloth were laid over it.
The table top is 10 x 14 inches. Attached to its center is a brass flange which screws onto the nickeled upright of the base, Fig. 2. ■. : ■'■¡■'I' The table base itself comes apart into three pieces for packing Fig. 3. The upright rod is made up of two pieces. The three legs fold together. The upright is held secure by a screw clamp.
The top also folds into small spaces by folding drape down over the top, Fig. 4. The top itself is of three-ply lumber. In the front half three wells are cut, Fig. 5. The flange is screwed to center of table and on rear of table two metal clamps are fastened to hold detachable servante. Also a slot cut in edge of table large enough to hold a few playing cards so that cards stick out about three-eighths of an inch, Fig. 6. The wells are then lined with black cloth. Sort of square pockets with no bottoms. The bottom is formed by tying the cloth shut with a piece of string. In this way the depth of the pocket can be regulated, Fig. 7. Sometimes rubber pockets are used for certain places where liquids are used. The table is then draped with the velour cover, say a green shade and spaces cut out for wells. The velour is then securely fastened, and a piece of black velvet is placed on top with space also cut out for wells. Then gold braid is tacked down in a pattern as shown in Fig. 8. The braid comes around the edge of the wells. The center well lacks a braid on the rear side but this is camouflaged by braid further back.
When a servante is needed, a folding one is attached as in Fig. 9. It consists of two pieces of metal to which is sewed a black cloth, Fig. 10. It folds up similar to Fig. 11 for packing.
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