The Black Art Table

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.

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