Bartomoleo Bosco is considered one of the very best conjurors of the 19th century. Robert-Houdin and many others praised his sleight of hand skills and his stage show. In 1851 Bosco visited Britain and I found a newspaper article (The Leader, 24th May 1851) that gives an insight into his impromptu work. It’s a repertoire of tricks that would work just as well now as it did then.
As Eddie Dawes pointed out in A Rich Cabinet of Magical Curiosities (The Magic Circular: Vol 82, No 890) Bosco’s visit to the UK did not work out as planned. 1851 was the year of The Great Exhibition, 140 days of the most magnificent entertainments and industrial spectacle housed in the specially built Crystal Palace in London. Everyone went there. And, it seems, few people went to visit Bosco’s shows. Recognising this was a battle he could not win Bosco placed an advertisement in The Times (11th June 1851) advising that all shows had been discontinued until further notice until ‘the rage for the Exhibition’ had diminished. Still, the newspaper article gives us a glimpse of the great exhibition Bosco was capable of. Note the psychological force.
I have seen some wonderful conjuring in my time, but never anything equal to that of Bosco, whom I met at a small breakfast the other day. ln the first place, the wonder was enhanced by the improvised nature of the materials he used; instead of the conjuror’s apparatus, he took the knives and forks, the cups, the eggs, the bread, and the radishes that came on the breakfast table, and while we sat opposite and beside him, he accomplished his tricks under our very noses. In the next place he had no accomplice, no mechanism. Sleight of hand enabled him to do all but the clairvoyant tricks. He was among strangers, his only friend present being the greatest living violinist. If you imagine the difficulties under which he laboured in being thus deprived of all ordinary means of deceit, you will see at once that Bosco is not of the ordinary race of conjurors. I will relate one or two of his tricks.
He gave our host a cup to hold in which the green end of a radish was placed; this cup had a cover which our host was told to place on the cup, having satisfied himself that the radish was there. Bosco, observe, stood at a distance of two or three yards, and did not touch the cup. When it was covered he asked if the radish were positively in the cup; then—still preserving his distance, he bade us remark a large ring on his finger. No sooner had we done so, than presto! the ring was invisible—the radish was in his hand, and when our host lifted the cover off the cup there was the ring! A burst of astonishment greeted this; and we begged him to repeat it, which he did—this time with a hall instead of a radish.
He then went up to our host's portrait; looked steadily at it for some time, wrote something on a piece of paper, gave the paper folded up to our host, and desired him to put it in his pocket. He then took a pack of cards, requesting our host to tell him when to cease dealing the cards on the table. At the ninth card the word "stop" arrested him. He then bade us read what was written on the paper, and we found, Monsieur will stop me at the ninth card!
Talk of clairvoyance after that. Another sample of thought-reading was given. He told four of us to think of any number we pleased, but not to name it. 1 thought of seven; my neighbour of ten; the other two of numbers which I forget, but they were not the same as ours. Bosco then took a pack of cards, and made each of us select one, and each selected a card having the number each had chosen!
Many other wonderful tricks he showed us, for some of which we could imagine a process, but these three were completely beyond even the scope of guessing; and we were told by his friend that when he exhibits in public we shall see things still more striking. What, peculiarly delighted us wan the elegance and ease with which the adroitest sleights of hand were accomplished. In that quality he is formidable. At Vienna the waiters in the cafe refused to take his money unless he placed it on the table, for he paid them and whipped the money from their hands without their being aware of it, till they looked and found their hands empty. I have given this hasty notice of the Chevalier Bosco to direct attention to him when he appears in public. Had he been a Robin or a Houdin. I should not have gone out of my way ; but at a time when there are so many Wizards in the field, a man to gain attention must have a peculiar talent, and such a talent Bosco has.