The 20th Century Silks

One of my favorite magic tricks is called the “20th Century Silks.” This is where two handkerchiefs are tied together and placed in a glass. A third handkerchief is then made to disappear and is later found tied between the two knotted ones.

I can still vividly remember seeing it for the first time when I was eight years old during a performance by our local magician, Larry Shean, at my cub scout pack’s Blue & Gold dinner. Even realizing now what was not a particularly remarkable handling, it still impressed me more than anything else he did.

Soon afterwards I began learning magic myself and as soon as I was able, I added the “20th Century Silks” to my little act. Unfortunately the first time I tried it was in my Fifth Grade class and I muffed it up. But I kept at it and it became a staple of my act for many years. Eventually I improved my handling by adding a startling and visible vanish of the handkerchief from a glass. Eventually I found out that 50 years earlier the great magician, Nate Leipzig, had also performed it the exact same way.

Over the years magicians have made light of my doing what they thought was an old and hackneyed trick; that it was not “edgy” enough for today’s audiences. But my experience has been just the opposite. I recently re-introduced the trick back into my act after many years and it is going over better than ever.

Just tonight I was reading a review of Leipzig’s act by the magician, Ellis Stanyon from 1906. Stanyon subtly dismissed the trick saying that the techniques Leipzig employed were commonplace (even back in 1906) and readily available in books of the time. But the last line of his review indicated that Stanyon himself was surprised at how well the trick went over. He wrote, “This trick, which was well and smartly worked, secured for the performer unusual applause.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Here is a photo of the master, Nate Leipzig, around the time he would be performing it.

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