Magic and magic tricks are having a long history.
In today’s article, we’ll explore the oldest magic tricks in the world:
- Lota Bowl Trick
- Mechanical Chess-Playing Turk
- Heron’s Horse
- Lying on a Bed of Nails
- The Indian Rope Trick
- Cups and Balls Trick
Table of Contents
Lota Bowl Trick (3000 BC.)
This trick is still regularly performed despite being first performed in the time of the ancient Greeks.
This trick is a bowl that appears to magically keep refilling itself.
You can still buy this trick in magic shops and it has never lost its wonder.
The secret is all to do with air pressure.
Demonstration and Explanation:
Mechanical Chess-Playing Turk (1770 CE.)
No longer in use because of a fire.
This was a Chess Playing Machine created as an entertainment in the late 18th Century.
It toured widely and achieved notoriety until its destruction by fire in 1854.
Whether you can truly call it a magic trick is debatable but it toured and was displayed for entertainment because of the mystery of how it worked, so in my opinion, it can be described as a trick.
It is clearly not the oldest trick but an example of a complex magical trick that was based around a device.
The truth was it was actually an illusion and there was a human inside the machine that moved the arms to allow it to play.
Napoleon and Benjamin Franklin are just two of the well-known people who played the Turk and lost.
The “Magic” of the device was the way the door underneath opened.
If you opened the door in the base on the left, you could see gears and cogs, to support the idea it was an automaton.
Open both the front and back doors and you could see all the way through.
The secret was a clever seat mounted on a slide that allowed the operator to move around the box and not be exposed when individual doors were opened.
A true magical trick.
Heron’s Horse (10 to 70 CE.)
This is a trick said to have been created by Heron of Alexandria (10 to 70 CE).
Heron was a clever inventor who designed a Steam Engine, a Vending Machine, and the Famous Horse Trick, amongst others.
The horse was a clever device that was made and featured a horse drinking from a bowl, the water was recycled and because of a vacuum, it would just keep on drinking.
It continued drinking even though the head appeared to be severed due to a mechanism that disconnected the water pipe as the knife moved through the neck and then automatically reconnected it once the knife was clear.
A very clever magic trick as complex as some of the devices built today.
The trick was recreated by a modern magician James Olsen and a limited number of models cast.
One of which appeared on the Martha Stewart Show.
They are occasionally demonstrated.
The video below is explaining in detail the principle behind this trick.
Indian Magic Tricks (3500 BC.)
India has always been synonymous with magic, so much so that often early western magicians would “black themselves up” and pretend to be Indian Fakirs.
Even Harry Houdini began his career posing as an Indian.
Magic in India stretches back as far as 3500 BC, and Indian magicians have been known in many other civilizations like China and the Roman Empire.
Indian magicians first reached England as long ago as 1813.
There follows a few of the most famous Indian magic tricks from history.
Sword Swallowing originated in India, four thousand years ago, later spreading to Ancient Greece and Rome.
It then spread to China in the 8th Century.
This is certainly a candidate for being one of the world’s oldest magic tricks.
Fire eating was a product of the Hindu Community.
Haridwar Sadhus were wandering religious figures and they would demonstrate fire eating and walking on hot coals as demonstrations of the total control they had of their bodies.
It entered the performance world in the 1880s.
Lying on a Bed of Nails
This trick has its origins to an epic Sanskrit poem written between 400 and 200 BCE but the actual reported event took place long before that.
The Indian Rope Trick
There have been many tales of the Indian Rope Trick in early Sanskrit but this was primarily describing a trick where a fakir climbs a rope and disappears, body parts are dropped down and miraculously are made whole again.
Variations on this theme appear.
But there is no documented evidence of an Indian Rope Trick until the 1800s when the British started taking an interest.
Legends abounded about the trick but it was difficult to actually separate the legends from the fact.
The more modern version of the trick just has a fakir playing the flute, the rope rising from a basket, and a boy climbing the rope and not disappearance.
This has been demonstrated several times and there is even a video on YouTube.
These early Indian Tricks were not the oldest but I wanted to include them to show that magic tricks have been around in various cultures for a very long time and still as popular as ever.
This brings us to what is generally considered to be the oldest magic trick.
One that is still performed today.
Cups and Balls Trick (2500 BC.)
The Cups and Balls Trick is the oldest magic trick that is still performed today, without a doubt.
The history of this trick stretches back (we think) to 2500 BC and is portrayed on an Egyptian wall painting.
There is not 100% certainty that this is what the painting shows but we know for certain that it was played as far back as 2000 years ago, having been described in Roman Writings.
The trick has continued almost continually since then.
In medieval England, is as described and street magicians would perform the trick.
It is still as popular as ever and children’s magic sets still usually contain the trick.
Harry Houdini was quoted as saying that nobody can call himself a magician until he had mastered the trick.
If you’re interested in learning magic tricks, make sure to check my list of recommended learning resources:
Learn the magic step by step from the best online teachers!
I find this continuity of magic performance over thousands of years to be quite inspiring.
As a Magician, you are entertaining people in the same way that they have been done for thousands of years.
Part of a continuous genre that still relies on some of the historic tricks, presented in new ways, as part of the repertoire.