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Trick and treat.

T here cannot be many of us that have not wondered how a magic trick was done. Trick it certainly was but still there is a niggling sense of wonder you cannot squeeze from the back of your mind. Small wonder most of us wished to be a magician at some time or another.

There is just something about being able to perform a slight of hand conjure which makes you a cut above the rest, you have fooled people and the look on their faces say it all.

There is a glamour to it all, female assistants wearing little more than smiles you can fold into small boxes is not something you can get away with in every line of business.

Cigarette cards giving details of how to perform various tricks are pretty popular and none more so than Carreras, Amusing Tricks and How to do Them. [1937]

eyes sparkling with excitement and fear.

Our magic man is just perfect in the role, I do not know why I like him so much, a well dressed middle aged balding man with enough meat on his bones to make him appear contented. He appears on a number of cards confidently smoking a cigarette poking from the corner of his mouth at jaunty angle with the no hands approach of someone totally at ease with themselves. Then there is the expression on his face, really you can only describe it as smug but you can tell he is a good fellow. Don't get me wrong this is not Paul Daniels.

Many of his tricks are performed to a younger audience, he is a favourite Uncle I reckon. Not quite sure why I identify with this illustrated man, for that is what he is, a cartoon, but I do. In fact I would go so far as to say he is my favourite character on a set of cards. Isn't it strange I should even take the time to think about it really.

The set is also very 'primary' colour apart from one card which at first glance seems almost to belong to a completely different set. It is amazing how many sets do seem to have that one card which strays from the format of all its colleagues but that is the way it is.

Going through solid matter.

Any of you expecting the cards to reveal how to cut a woman in half are in for a disappointment even in the days when safety was a matter of keeping the poison bottles off the dinner table this was considered knowledge a bit too lethal in the hands of Joe Public.

Well lets get to the meat of the issue. Will this set get you into the Magic Circle? No, I am not convinced 'The Wandering Rubber Band' (card 5) would impress that much but then again you will not be perfecting the trick for the next 20 years either. Card 10 is a trick called 'The Wandering Ring' and lets not forget 'The Wandering Pen' (card 19) but before you start practicing the trick of wandering off let me tell you there are some marvels and delights in this set, so Roll Up, Roll Up and step right in and see me defy nature with the thread that will not burn (card 2), gasp in wonder as I walk through a postcard (card 12). Walking through a postcard really is only for people that have mastered walking through the chinese wall mind.

And if my thread does happen to burn the chuckles will turn to cries of amazement as I restore the burnt thread (card 13).

Now obviously it would be entirely wrong of me to reveal all the secrets of these amusing tricks but I am sure I can give you the odd hint.

Now if you are anything like me, and it is safe to assume you are; you watch a trick and knowing there is a trick in it somewhere you wonder how it is done. Then someone tells you and it is so stupifyingly simple you wish they had not. Another little bit of wonder has been squeezed from the world for good.

Still we cannot sit in our caves cowering as the sun is eaten up by a monster or indeed believe the chances of anything coming from Mars is in fact as good as a million to one and end up running from your building with a wet towel wrapped around your head. So in the spirit of advances the sum total of human knowledge let me tell you how to lengthen a handkerchief.

Details from Card 1
To lengthen a handkerchief
Take an ordinary handkercief, hold Corner No3 in the left hand and with the right hand grasp corner number 2 (between thumb and first finger) and corner No 3 (between first and second fingers) Twirl the handkercief vigorously outwards so that it coils itself into the rough shape of a rope. Still twirling pull outwards by corners 3 and 2 and the handkerchief will continue to grow longer.

Check out the inset box.

What, you are none the wiser. Does the title of the series say Easy, or Amusing. Well then. Actually a bit unfair as it needs the front of the card to actually make a lot of sense, still you cannot have everything.

The thread that will not burn is one you can try right now. It is easy, suspend a ring (not to heavy) from a bit of thread. Explain to your enthralled audience you are going to burn the thread without the ring falling. Let the confusion hang in the air, a cloud of disbelief between you and them. Best not to wait to long with arched eyebrows otherwise someone will shout 'Get on with it' and ruin the atmosphere.

Then get igniting.

As you can imagine there is a bit more to it than that and here is the bit more to it.

Prepare a saline solution (one teaspoonful of common salt in an equal amount of water) Soak the thread and allow it too dry. Simple, this will mean the burnt thread will be held together.

Now it does not take much imagination to envisage mixing a big vat of this solution and perhaps soaking an anchor rope and going at it with a flame thrower with a lovely assistant hanging on the end of the rope over a pool full of hungry crocodiles with dry ice billowing in from either side of the stage as rock music blares from speakers. The Fabled Franklyn performing his signature trick one last time to an enchanted audience eyes sparkling with excitement and fear.

Okay perhaps a bit of imagination required.

From things you would expect to burn to burning things that cannot. Card 11, the sugar torch.

This is where the Fabled Franklyn comes down from the clouds and smooches with the audience for a bit of 'close-up' magic. Removing a sugar cube from my pocket I invite them try to burn it. They fail misreably and I have to explain to a number of people in purchasing tickets they did agree to waive their rights to claim for damages against any personal injuries they may endure.

Then taking the cube from them I ignite it. Of course the fiery melting sugar causes some more lawsuit nonsense but that is soon cleared up.

Now clearly I have some magic powers (beyond the foresight of small print on ticket sales). How, well it was easy, 'you surreptitiously press a small spot of cigarette ash on the sugar' I leave it to you to work out the best way of doing that. Probably best you do not attempt to hold the burning sugar cube but if you thought you were going to I am surprised you've lasted so long really.

If potentially juggling burning sugar is not risky enough how about the bewitched walking stick. I wonder how many people drove pins through the knees of their trousers to attempt the trick.

We all know this is slight of hand and that is all about practice but what about mind power. This is the stuff, forget the finger exercises and worrying if you are pulling the right corner of your handkerchief this is all about furrowing your brow and pressing your hands to your head as if any moment your giant pulsating brain may burst from your forehead.

Our hero is slightly calmer than this, sporting a suit and a superior grin he is having a good deal of fun.

For those of you left in the digital age please refer to a suitable reference source to determine what a clock face looks like. Although I suggest this in jest a good few years ago a mate of mine had some kids who had not a clue what clockwise or anticlockwise was as they had not ever really come into contact with an analogue clock face.

Card 22 gets you to tell the time by clairvoyance. Obviously the trick would be to get a crafty squint at your watch but it is not quite as simple as that. What you do is get someone to select any number they like on a clock face. Then by a process of tapping counting and particle physics you tell the chap what number he was thinking off. Certainly this would have by brain threatening to burst forth at any moment.

All this seems a bit tricky for my feeble brain so something more practical; naming unseen colours. Now there was a woman in Russia that claimed she could tell colour by touch. She got a Guinness Book of Records listing for having sensitive fingers. I should say she did if that was the case.

This is a sort of variation on the theme. Take four differenct coloured pencils and hold them behind your back. Turning your back on your chum get them to remove three of them, leaving one behind.

The flying egg

Then tell them which three they removed.

Now the trick to this is your mate did not see you mark the nail of your other hand with the pencil which was left behind. Having done that you casually bring the hand with the marked nail around to stoke your chin in thought whilst taking a crafty look at the colour on your nail. As long as you remembered the other colours you are now ready to amaze.

I suspect a lot of the amusement to be derived from this trick is your mate catching scribbling all over your hands. Still you will be amazed how many tricks are based on things just this mundane and how few people catch on.

So perhaps we will leave the mentalist stuff behind and still with the slight of hand for a little longer.

The most likely props a person holding a cigarette card would have had at the time were cigarettes and matches so perhaps no suprise these things should appear a number of times on the cards. Sometimes the use of the props are rather more contrived than others but generally it fits in well with the run of things.

One of my favourite tricks illustrated is the flying egg, which I have put onto the website. It is just the surreal nature of it all which appeals to my sense of fun (and the look on the chaps face). You may also have noticed one of the main children in the cards bears a striking likeness to 'Henry' or is it just me staring at the cards rather to long.

Either way I am now going to go back have a look at some more cards. It is a tough job but someone has got to do it.