What was the First Magic Trick Performed in the History of Magic?

What was the first magic trick ever performed in the history of magic?

That’s a tough question to answer, but as far as we know the first recorded magic trick was the “Cups and Balls” trick. This trick has been dated to be over 10,000 years old by historians. The effect is quite simple: the magician shows three cups and three balls and one at a time the balls disappear from cup to cup and then the balls vanish all together. The effect has been highly regarded as a “rite of passage” for most magicians. In most magicians’ eyes, if you were able to master the cups and balls, then you could truly call yourself a magician.

During the Renaissance era (14th to 17th century), many lute players and magicians took to the streets to perform. As a result, large crowds would gather. Although the cups and balls were fun form of entertainment for the watchful spectators, some magicians used this for their own financial gains. A magician would work with another person in the crowd and while the magician was performing, this would be the right amount of misdirection for them to have their accomplice to pick the pockets of the unknowing spectators.

Cups and Balls Historical Magic Photo from First Magic Trick
The cups and balls became infamous for that, so most performance areas would call upon local police to watch for the prying hands of others. So instead of risking jail time, magicians soon realized that doing such an act wasn’t a very good idea and most stopped doing so.

Since its creation, the cups and balls have seen many variations. (If you want to see some very good interpretations of the cups and balls routine, check out Lance Burton and Michael Ammar’s renditions.) It’s great to see magicians still performing this archaic effect, but putting their own spin on it. Many suggest that the cups and balls were the predecessor to another similar gambling game, the “three shell” game. The “three shell” game is essentially the same idea: three shells, which could be walnut shells or bottle cap, were used along with what were usually three small peas. The problem with the shell game was that the gambler would always win either by sleight-of-hand or very cleverly design gimmicks. If you go to New York City you can still see gamblers performing this same effect day in and day out.

If you want to seriously start learning the Cups and balls routine, I can’t recommend high enough Master Magician, Michael Ammar’s Cups and Balls series on his website. He has two dvds for sale and you can find the first one at the following link. Cups and Balls DVD by Michael Ammar -It’s a great start for such a legendary effect!

A few words on the cups and balls :
When I first started learning the cups and balls routine, I didn’t have the money to buy the dvds plus the fancy cups and balls sets that I found online. I just improvised and used red plastic cups and rolled up some small ¼’’ aluminum balls. I would perform this at my lunch break while I was at high school. My classmates always had a great time watching. Remember it’s not about the tools that you use; it’s how you use what you’ve been given that counts. Besides a great performer will always be great despite what materials he has acquired. In the end the spectator doesn’t really care as long as they have been entertained!

Thanks again for reading!
Until next time….

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