Coin magic is the manipulating of coins to entertain audiences. Because coins are small, most coin tricks are considered close-up magic or table magic, as the audience must be close to the performer to see the effects. Though stage conjurers generally do not use coin effects, coin magic is sometimes performed onstage using large coins. In a different type of performance setting, a close-up coin magician (or 'coin worker') will use a large video projector so the audience can see the magic on a big screen. Coin magic is generally considered harder to master than other close-up techniques such as card magic, as it requires great skill and grace to perform convincingly, and this takes a lot of practice to acquire.
Coin effects include productions, vanishes, transformations, transpositions, teleportations, penetrations, restorations, levitations and mental magic—some are combined in a single routine. A simple effect might involve borrowing a coin, making it vanish, concealing the coin, then reproducing it again unexpectedly and returning it to the owner. More complex effects may involve multiple coins, substituting or switching coins and other objects or props can be employed (i.e. handkerchiefs, glasses) as well as the coins. However, the power of most coin magic lies in its simplicity and the solidity of the object; the basic skills of sleight of hand and misdirection often appear most magical without complex equipment. Almost any audience will be amazed by the simplest mystery, such as passing a coin through a table.
Sleights and tricks
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Some classic coin magic effects:
- Coin vanish - making a coin seemingly vanish.
- Coin production - making a coin seemingly appear.
- Transposition - making two coins switch places
Some classic coin magic plots:
- Chink-a-chink - A bare-handed Matrix.
- Coins Across - The magical transfer of multiple coins from one hand to another.
- Coin Bite - Taking a bite out of a coin then visually restoring it right in front of the spectator.
- Coins Through Table - Coins penetrate through the surface of the table.
- Coin to Bottle - A coin is slammed into a sealed bottle.
- Coins to Glass - Similar to coins across - coins transfer from one hand to a glass.
- Matrix - A teleportation illusion of four coins moving invisibly under the cover of four playing cards.
- Miser's Dream - Grabbing multiple coins from thin air. Popularized by Thomas Nelson Downs, who would drop coin after coin into a borrowed top hat.
- Spellbound - Visually changing one coin into another, while only showing one coin at all times.
- Tenkai Pennies - A two coin routine where one coin travels from one hand to the other.
- Three fly - A coins across type effect involving three coins visually transferring from one hand to another.
A sampling of coin sleights and moves:
- Palming - A form of concealment.
- Sleeving - A form of concealment.
- Lapping - A form of ditching a coin.
- The French Drop - a retention of vision coin vanish involving the Passing of a coin from one hand to the other than making it disappear.
- The Muscle Pass - Shooting a coin from one hand to the other, this can be done in such a way that can make the coin look as if it’s defying gravity
Some magicians widely known for coin magic include:
- Thomas Nelson Downs (considered, along with J.B. Bobo, one of the magicians key to the development and teaching of modern coin magic)
- J.B. Bobo (author of Modern Coin Magic, a core reference and starting point for coin magicians)
- Tony Slydini (a well-known magician whose style of magic transformed close-up magic including his impressive coin routines)
- Dai Vernon
- Ed Marlo
- David Roth (most important developer of coin magic in the twentieth century and inventor of the standard plots common in current coin magic)
- Larry Jennings
- Michael Ammar (one of the most prolific publishers and teachers, an experienced all around magician, including coin work)
- Dean Dill (coin magician and inventor who has appeared on television and also works as a barber)
- Michael Vincent
- Shoot Ogawa (Last Vegas restaurant performer known for highly stylized, high-difficulty, impressive coin magic)
- Apollo Robbins (contemporary of Shoot Ogawa and co-contributor to a number coin teaching materials)
- David Stone (talented performer and teacher of fast-paced, flashy coin magic)
- Rocco Silano
- Jay Sankey
- Rich Ferguson (author of Chip Tricks, a magician and mentalist who has authored various magic instructional videos)
- Luis Piedrahita
- Michael Rubinstein
- Mike Gallo
- Chris Kenner
- Paul Cummins
- Ryan Hayashi
Although some coin magic use gimmicks (e.g. modified coins or trick coins), such gimmicks usually do not entirely create the magical effect. Gimmicked coins are made by several major manufacturers, such as Sterling, Johnson, Sasco or Tango Magic. Producing a memorable mystery requires significant skill in presenting the effect and utilizing misdirection to distract the audience from the secret of the gimmick. A performer who relies entirely on special equipment may not impress an audience. Many people are more impressed by an effect which depends (or seems to depend) entirely on skillful manipulation and misdirection than by an effect which appears to depend to some extent on specially made props. A performer who has mastered the basic skills can nonetheless use gimmicks to powerful effect without it being obvious to the audience. Some prefer not to use gimmicks at all, though most well-known coin magicians do use simple coin gimmicks.
Canadian novelist Robertson Davies devotes a good part of his Deptford Trilogy to the art of coin magic. All three novels follow in part or wholly the career of a fictitious magician, Magnus Eisengrim, who was abducted as a boy by a traveling circus and learned his craft while concealed in a papier-mâché automaton. The descriptions of coin magic throughout are remarkable for their clarity. The final novel in the series, World of Wonders, details his life and career.
Thieves, wizards, and jesters, in historical and fantasy literature are often depicted as being skilled in sleight of hand, and are often depicted doing standard coin magic. Rolling a coin across the knuckles (coin walking) is a popular image. Silk in David Eddings's Belgariad, and Mat Cauthon and Thom Merrilin in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time do this frequently. Johnny Depp's whimsical character Jack Sparrow coin walks in the end of Pirates of the Caribbean. Also, Vila Restal in the BBC science fiction television program Blake's 7 mixed his skills as a thief with such tricks.