Illusions and Magic


And The Playful World of the Circus

From MS of the 14th Century
From "Toys of Other Days"
by Mrs F Nevill Jackson

Many of us probably see the circus as a world of folks who never quite grew up. A world for those who never forgot how to play. When PT Barnum came along followed by the Ringling Brothers and so many others they did not open a new world! Their world had been there for a long while. Jessi Wonderfool points out below that circuses date back to the time of the old Egyptians, and Clowns to the time of The Monkey King, and the Tricksters of so many cultures (Even our North American Natives). At Faire Tyme we find that indeed the toys, games, and equipment they used like balls, juggling pins and rings date back even further. And thus the very strong bond between the early circus, the early clown, and the early toys used by man.

These very early tricksters, acrobats, and jugglers allowed people to remember that world which they had probably already forgotten when they became adults. If you want to find just a little bit of information on the origins of the very ancient roots of the world of the old circuses of the 19th and early 20th century, and of the worlds of the Magician, the Clown, the Performer, and the Trapeze artist, and how our play today is a part of that culture, then you have come to the right place. The right place to learn where to find information about some of their wonderful and truly magical world, and the "Toys" that they used in some cases to enter that world! We are not a web site on circus history. But we can begin to show you where and how to search for that fascinating information as it just might pertain to toys. However, this area of our web site will be under construction for a long while. Stay tuned for more fascinating history to come!

We hope to provide you with some book references (and even a few VERY TRUSTED links) to help you begin to research this fascinating and wonderful world of history. For further and more detailed information we suggest you go to begin your research at the Research department of Circus World in Wisconsin.

Jessi Wonderfool

Jessi Wonderfool (Jessi Hoffschildt) is among our most talented clowns today. You can see her Bio here... ... She writes the following. Kids that never grew up is one way to put it- but it can also be said that kids don't have cultural walls and taboo that have been ingrained in them. Clowns- good clowns- take down the walls in themselves in order to connect and show how human we all are and to laugh at our own self importance. It's more about being concentrated human then being a kid. We just see it in kids more because they are younger and haven't had the stigmas of society put on them yet.

Jessi also writes "Historically Circus has been about testing humanity. The first circuses are really the first Olympics. Juggling and acrobatics in ancient Egypt was to entertain the royalty and gods." Indeed we agree with Jessi totally, knowing that Egyptians held parades with over sized puppets that would simulate the Gods that they knew for instance. These "Puppets" were indeed very highly religious. And these puppets were also very highly ingrained into the history of puppets as we know them today. These folks of early times like Egyptians and Greeks are often seen in old paintings playing with balls. Juggling. Yo Yo's. etc.

Jessi writes "Clowns have a different history. Clowns and Trickster characters can be found in all historic cultures. From the Monkey King of China to the Coyote Trickster God of the Native Americans. They all do the same thing- hold a mirror up to ourselves. Jesters would make fun of kings, Harlequin (Arlequino) mocked the Italian government. Clowns are a reality check- to tell us when we are being stupid as a culture- as a species, and as a person. " At Faire Tyme we have often read of the Old Morality Plays and the resulting Punch and Judy shows that we see now and then today. Coming directly from Harlequin Characters.

For further and more detailed information we suggest you begin your research at the Research department of Circus World in Wisconsin.

Interesting books and documentation on the subject

Coming Soon

Toys with Common Roots with Circuses, Clowns, and Illusions, etc.

Tristan Christ prepares for Humanette Act
His arms will become the arms of the boy behind
Allowing it to look like the boy is doing magic tricks

This photo at left is a great demonstration of how circus acts can use old or very old toys or games integrated into their shows. Tristan Christ is a very accomplished magician who works among other places for Circus World in Wisconsin. The linked Magic Rings, the tricks with balls and animals and such are so often based on very old toys and/or games with common ancestry. Some may indeed come from toys, but some of these old toys may indeed have come from the tricks of the early magicians.

In a true Humanette act, the puppet hangs around the neck of the head of the puppeteer. The Puppeteer's head becomes the head of the puppet. And you see the short stubby puppet dancing on the lap of the puppeteer and doing all sorts of crazy antics. To see another description please see this video as long as the link still works. Or search for "Men in Coats" to see their act. The Humanette act begins about half way through the video.

Ancient Egyptians Juggling
From Toys of Other Days
By Mrs F Nevill Jackson

Ball Games
Balls have always formed such an important part in the circus world especially in juggling but of course in other areas as well. The red ball has forever been the nose of the clown. It is the basis of so many tricks by the acrobat. The magician. The circus animal acts. And of course those same balls have been so commonly used by children and animals as beloved toys for thousands of years.

Building Blocks

A source of entertainment from so very long ago. Could these possibly be one of the very first toys kids or adults played with? In the form of a pile of sticks to build a little bridge, or anything such? Blocks certainly have always played such an important part in the circus. The box that the elephant or horse stands on. The pile of boxes and the arch forming the door into the rings. The pile of blocks the acrobat uses to balance on. They were everywhere in those circuses and still are today. Possibly even more than ever.

The Yawning Mouth (Jacob's Ladder)
The following information is from the Winter 2005 edition of Gibeciere. (...) It's named for a magician's apron. It's published as "The Journal of The Conjuring Arts Research Center." The article is by Volker Huber and is titled "The Yawning Mouth."

Painting by Bernardino Luini. "The painting was done around 1520. It is the second depiction known up to now to show a conjuring apparatus that was not the cups and balls. And it is the second picture known up to now of a "Conjuring Trick" after L'Escamoteur by Heronymus Bosch which was painted around 25 years earlier." The author describes an etching of the artwork made in 1795 by Francesco Bartolozzi and shows a depiction of it in his book. He mentions that at that time it was thought that the original painting was done by Leonardo de Vinci. Bernardino Luini was a student of Devinci and thus is work is influenced very heavily by him. When magnified the painting clearly shows that the ribbons at that time were actually attached with a nail into the END of the block.

To see the magic, place a dollar bill under the ribbons on one side of the toy. Flip the blocks down and make it disappear. Then, flip again and make it appear again. Or place a one dollar bill on one side and a ten on the other, and make the ten turn into a one.

The Magic Ball
Today a trick such as the magic ball seems very basic. But when little was known of science as we know it today, it was not as easy to understand such little basic tricks. Watch the conjurer make a ball stop falling down the rope and figure how it was done. Another of the very old conjuring tricks used in times of old.
Click Here to see a video demonstrating the Magic Ball. Just hold up the string, and tell it to "Move" or "Stop"

Snake Toys
The folded paper snakes you see on our web site were one of a variety of such toys often sold at events by pedlars, the old circus folks, etc. They were of oriental origin, and are still very popular there today after centuries of life there. These are the type of "Sales Toy" of course rather than performance toys.

The Old Fairs. Coconut Shy, Cock Shy, Club Kayles, and other similar games.
The Olde Faires, are of course really a different atmosphere, but some of these old activities seem to be somewhat common with faires and the old circuses. Since the faires are different subject we will not dwell on this. However, there are some games that very likely were common to each. Remember the old song "I've got a lovely bunch of cocunuts!" It refers right back to the old game of Coconut Shy. Where a player throws a ball at a coconut to try to knock it off of the shelf it is sitting on. Also, Kayles is a game similar to bowling except that you throw a club at the pins instead of rolling a ball. This game of course lead to the old midway type games. Indeed most midway games today go right back to this these very old games like Kayles anc Coconut Shy. "Five shots for a quarter. Make the duck hit the water. And give your little lady a thrill."

Watch for more information coming soon.

Toys, Games, and Items that May or May not link back to the old circus, magic, and clowns

Bait the Bear and Bull

Bait the Bear - Could this link to Circus Animal performances?
Unfortunately animal acts and games were not always as amiable as they are today. But we must remember that these were different times. It was indeed very common to bait bears and other animals for sport to watch. We hate to admit that this might have led in a tiny way to today's circuses. In this sport they would tie a bear to a stake and let dogs attack it. The bear did have the advantage and was seldom killed but many dogs were. The bear was left to fight only until he could no more and then he was untied and his wounds tended. There are often times when we think of those simple "Good olde days", but when we see things like this we realize that they were indeed horrible, dirty, violent and often non caring days that we would NEVER want to go back to!

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