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Doug Edwards looks at the nuances of cages that


vanish.

BIRDCAGED
By Doug Edwards
After seeing Buatier De Kolta perform his Flying Cage at Maskelyne and Cooke's Egyptian
Hall in 1875, Harry Kellar immediately went backstage and purchased De Kolta's spare cage
for $750. According to the press, Kellar 'killed' with it the following year at the Victoria
Theatre in Australia. John Northern Hilliard thought De Kolta's creation would 'fool a man
from Mars' according to John Booth in his classic book, 'The Marvels of Mystery.'
When properly executed, no clue should be left to its modus operandi. I've performed this
tremendous effect for the past 30 years and highly second Hilliard's sentiments. And, within
this three decade time frame, I've discovered nuances to enhance and insure its workability
that I'm about to impart.

Water: Water is
often difficult to see
at a distance,
especially under
stage light. Tinting
the water slightly
with food coloring
will make it look
more like water to
the spectators.
Orientation: Mark
stage props so
they can be quickly
and correctly
oriented in relation
to the audience
view. This can be
done with paint or
tape for wood and
metal props; with
thread or a small
button for cloth
props.

The Cage

Top left: Early vanishing cage, circa 1900. Top right: Warren E. Sims cage.
Bottom left: Charles Holmdale cage circa late 1920s - early 1930s. Bottom right: Jay Palmer ribbon bound
cage circa 1930 - 1940.

For starters, the type of cage utilized is of utmost importance. On the stage, the flexible
cage, usually trimmed with red or green ribbon for visibility, is preferable. It collapses of its
own weight as the performer stretches his arms. For close up performance, a semi-rigid type
cage that can be held open on the outstretched hand is desirable. Bert Allerton's close up
exploits, at The Pump Room and House of Murphy with this type cage, are legion. He
originally used a Holmdale cage but later switched to cages custom made for him by Ed Miller
of Chicago. John Mulholland was the first to pick up the cage from the table, secretly connect
it to the pull, and vanish it.
Most of the highly ornate cages made by Conradi, Klingl, Bard and other European
manufacturers of yesteryear are great as collector's items but vastly impractical to the
working professional as they were quite heavy (slowing down the vanish) and bulky. One was

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even constructed to be examined by the spectators prior to the vanish as it secretly locked
open by turning its revolving corners. Still, from the performer's point of view, not practical
but highly cumbersome. It flattered the ingenuity rather than the effect. Avoid cages with
unnecessary corner protrusion.
Unfortunately, most cages of current manufacture share this pitfall. They have a tendency of
catching on the sleeve cuff, to the mortification of the performer, with unfailing accuracy.
The proper cage, whether flexible or semi-rigid, must be smooth on all sides and corners.
Warren E. Simms of Brooklyn, New York churned out the lightest and slickest cages of dural
and gleaming monel metal from the 1940s through the 1970s. His cages are now scarce but
with persistence in your search, one should turn up in a reasonably short time. Look for the
S hallmark on one of the lower end bars.
Other comparable cages of that era were produced by Will Lindhorst, Gene DeVoe, Jay
Palmer, Al Baker, Yimka and John Martin.
The Hook Up

Top: Construction details. At left, the early 1900s cage uses cord running through holes in the frame to
secure the eyes at the ends of the bars. At right, the Palmer cage links the frame pieces and bars together
with eyes that are soldered closed.
Bottom: Methods of attaching the line to the cage. Left: Open hook on early 1900s cage. Center: Ring
attached to cage, S hook attached to ring on Holmdale cage. Right: Hook attached to cage corner on Palmer
cage.

The best and easiest hook up for the vanish resembles that of a hold out. A nylon parachute
cord/pull is attached to one corner of the cage, while a slip knot at the other end is fitted
around your left wrist. This slip knot procedure was used by Blackstone Sr. and his son
throughout their careers. In a matter of seconds you can retire from the stage, slip the loop
off your wrist and remove the cage.
The cage should hang inside your right jacket sleeve just about two inches above the sleeve
cuff. When the cage is open and you're set for the vanish, strike the inner, upper corner with
the palm of your left hand, collapsing the cage instantly and, when the arms are suddenly
outstretched, sending it up the sleeve and out of sight.
The Canary
The inclusion of a bird in the cage adds immensely to the effect. Carl Hertz, Fred Keating and
others were said to have used live birds, which is uncalled for. The cage is hardly seen for
that long enough time to require a living occupant. David Devant had good intentions by
letting the bird accidentally (?) fly out of the cage. He exclaimed, "You've flown away, so take
the cage with you." The cage vanished instantly as he threw his hands up towards the bird in
flight.
Most instruction sheets that accompany the vanishing cage apparatus hardly, if at all, cover
details of the bird. In actuality, it's an important detail. Obtain a yellow rubber canary
available at most magic depots and carefully cut it longitudinally in half. This is done for
three economical reasons. The bird is only seen on this one side, it offers less bulk to the
cage when its spirited up your sleeve, and, last but not least, you now have an extra bird for

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your spare, backup cage.


Next apply clear nail polish on the eye of the bird and cement a yellow feather to its body.
These steps create an impressive life-like appearance. Most rubber birds come packaged in
talcum powder to keep the rubber fresh and soft/smooth. It's a good idea to always keep the
bird well powdered so it won't hang up on your sleeve. With some strong black thread, hang
the bird in the middle of the cage. The tail thread is connected toward the upper right corner.
This positions the bird in the same direction as the cage when it collapses.
A Silk Canary

A small silk handkerchief can be used to simulate the canary. Fold the silk in half diagonally, then fold the
result in half again diagonally. Fold the center corner over on top of the silk. Take hold of the doubled ends,
one in each hand, and tie a knot. Done neatly the knot becomes canary body, one pair of ends, extending a
short way out of the knot become the head, the other pair of ends extending further out of the knot become
the tail feathers.

Presentation
For kids shows, the following presentation is most effective. Come forward with the cage
(semi-rigid type) opened and held in one hand and an empty opaque paper bag in the other.
Place the cage into the bag and secretly allow it to collapse into the sleeve. Blow into the bag
to inflate it. Suddenly burst it and throw it into the audience. The cage has vanished! For a
dramatic ending, place a few feathers or bits of yellow paper into the bag prior to the effect.
When the bag is popped, only a trace of feathers is left.
Although the prices of early type cages in mint working condition have crept up in recent
years, they are still well under the price mark paid by Kellar in 1875.
Photographs by Richard Robinson. Birdcaged 2004 by Doug Edwards.
Magic Show is 2004 by Robinson Wizard, Inc.

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