I received an email from Alexandrite Arthur Jameson asking about The Multiplying Bottles Trick. He wanted to know if I thought it was a good trick for him to perform in his stage show. Since he took the time to write me and ask about it, I thought I’d include my response and a darn good routine for all of you peruse. If you’re not familiar with the trick you can view it here. The Multiplying Bottles, I am told, is credited to Arthur P. Felsman, a well-known Chicago Magic Dealer of the early part of the century. It laid dormant then until the 1940’s when it was revived by Percy Abbott. I first witnessed the effect presented by Paul Daniels on a video. The production of nine bottles from the two tubes seemed like a novel trick. I made mental note that here was an item for future consideration. The price of the set kept many from buying so I knew that once I had my own I would have few competitors. My dear friend Peter Pit did a great Multiplying Bottles routine. You can see all of his magic on a DVD called Memoirs.
A few years later, Bert Pratt asked what he could build me in return for a favor, and I suggested a table for Multiplying Bottles and soon a wonderful table some five feet long, 18 inches wide, and 30 inches high, with padded upholstery like an expensive brand with a black felt top was ready for use. Not to bore you with details of the development of the routine, but let me outline the scene as it would be presented:
The curtain rises on a bare stage, excepting a portable bar off right front center with the top covered with a cloth. Behind it, close to the table, is a chair. Stacked chairs, bare tables, etc., can add to the impression that it is a nightclub; the morning cleanup session is evident by the “janitor” busy sweeping the floor. The magician enters from left, attired as a bartender with an apron around his middle, sleeves rolled up, fancy garters on sleeves, and a handlebar mustache if desired. The two exchange greetings and the performer heads for the table, asking, “What’s this?” He is told, “It’s the magician’s equipment, and, stay away!” The “bartender” roars in reply, “Ho! I can do some tricks myself,” and he lifts the cover and peeks underneath. There he finds a book, SECRETS OF MAGIC and he opens it and starts checking the pages. The “janitor” meanwhile sweeps himself off stage and the performer, finding himself alone, casts a searching glance around and removes a pocket flask. Fortified by a quick one, he takes the cover off the table, placing it over the chair and reads aloud from the book: “The Multiplying Bottle Trick. The magician uses a bottle, a glass, and two empty tubes.” His voice dies away as he glances around again, finds himself still alone and that there rests on the table two tubes, a bottle and empty glass. He checks the book; he checks the items with gestures. Then stiffening he makes an exaggerated bow, points to the bottle, the glass, and then lifts the tubes. He exposes two more bottles. He drops tubes, checks the book, removes two bottles from the tops of the tube and starts all over again from the exaggerated bow on. This time –too many tubes! The extra tubes confuse him even more and he shoves one of them and the extra bottle over to a corner of the table. While unseen by the audience his opposite hand (left) drops below the table top over a set of four more bottles on the chair and lifts them onto the table where they too join the “unwanted” section.
He starts again -two more bottles! He wipes his brow – glances at the book – checks around for on lookers – takes the flask from his pocket and takes a healthy swig. He either “chokes” on this or gags, apparently spits it out, and a flash follows! He staggers back to the table and tries to start again. More bottles! Meanwhile, he places his flask on the table and covers it with a tube. He stands back and considers his problem – starts to lift a tube – changes his mind – reaches for a second – changes his mind and lifts a third tube. Here he finds a beer can! Puzzled, he glances through the tube, lifts another – a bottle of beer (squat size) – a third tube discloses a bottle of ginger ale and the fourth exposes a bottle of Pepsi. These incidentally are a set made by Richard Himber that nest (the last two) and this fact leads to the vanish of one later. Dumbfounded by the mess he is creating, the performer heaves a big sigh of exasperation, feels for his flask in his hip pocket, finds it gone and remembers he placed it under a tube. He tries to remember which one. He lifts them all in rapid succession – they are all empty!
Going back to the book, he mouths the words of instruction and shakes his head slowly from side to side. Ah! Here it is! “When you have too many bottles, you must vanish them! Marvelous,” he says, checks the book, glances at the audience and asks, “Has anyone an old bag with them?” Never mind, he finds an empty paper sack on the table under the book and shakes it open. It is unmistakably empty. Holding the bag with the left fingertips he leans across the table to pick up the Pepsi bottle. As he does so, the hand with bag drops below the tabletop, lets the bag fall to the floor and nips the open, loaded bag resting on the chair. (The flask incidentally vanished down a well as the tube was moved over it. The long bag of well resting also on the chair so that the drop of the flask is not registered on the table, etc).
The Pepsi bottle is placed in the “empty” bag, which is now well above the table, but a clink is heard and in puzzlement the poor magician gazes into the bag and slowly removes a bottle of beer, a bottle of catsup, a bottle of Coke. These are the rubber variety, but fortified with the addition of a metal washer to their respective bottoms so they will hit the table with a clunk instead of silently if just rubber. The bag now is empty – excepting for a miniature ginger ale bottle from the Himber set, which is nipped by the fingers as the bag is turned bottoms up and shaken.
Sympathizing with himself, the performer places the Pepsi bottle in the bag, then the ginger ale bottle, then stops to think, “No,” he says aloud, “Just one bottle will vanish and reappear under the tubes.” He removes the one bottle, but actually the nested two, and holds the bag up as he makes mysterious passes with his hands and squashes the bag. The bottle has vanished. Proudly, he lifts the first tube, nothing there, and likewise with the other three! He is more puzzled than ever. He gestures as he thinks back as to what he did. During this action he can also casually lift out any leftover bottle from the tubes, for believe me, once you start, the routine takes you over and not vice versa.
Finally, he decides and he holds up his finger to announce, “The bottle is still in the bag!” He opens up the bag, peers in and proudly brings forth the miniature bottle, which, leaning over the table he places at the front. “I am afraid, ladies and gentlemen,” he concludes, “this is a case of too many bottles!” He removes one more bottle from a tube and starts to walk off stage right. Part way, he brings his left hand from behind his back and holds up for all to see a jeroboam. A granddaddy liquor bottle, which resting under the table was easily swung behind the back as the last bottle is placed on the table.
Thus, from a promising trick of producing the Multiplying Bottle set, a routine, act, or scene has developed that has a theme, a reason, novelty and variation, and a good finish, for I have never failed to get an extra large hand when the small bottle is produced. Here in the U.S., Famous O’Connor considers the trick his own. He uses a roll-on table and makes many steals and produces bottles till there is no more room. Danny Martin in the Northwest has the glass disappear then begins a wild search for the same finding only bottles until he wishes to bring the trick to a close at which time he “finds” the glass. His roll-on table has extendible side wings and he fills these with bottles and varies the amount with t he reception of the routine by the audience. He is my authority for stating that after a point the routine takes you on and not you the routine. Danny says he can produce as many as 30 bottles (Ah those roll-on tables:-)
My own set is the basic Abbott nine. To it I added a Comedy Passe set giving me four more bottles (and two tubes, the disclosure of which I’m sure adds to the laughs). It was necessary to knock out the liquid partition from the smaller bottle of one nest so that a squat beer bottle could be placed under the tubes, also for one of the Himber bottles. The beer can be lightened by having its contents withdrawn. So at the beginning the audience seeing two tubes and a bottle do not know that the three are actually stacks of four bottles each nor that a fourth stack is on the chair out of sight and next to the paper bag with its four quota as well.
Johnny Platt, Chicago’s own and leading exponent of the Multiplying Bottles, has gone to the trouble of gimmicking so that his bottles all appear the same height. However, since mine are “all different” there is no reason for such here. The routine has been used with an assistant, the magician in tux, she in briefs and her job being to daintily take each bottle and carry it to side tables (TV tables, one on each side) as the table fills. I have chuckled over variations and additions for with so much space to hide stuff, why not do so? But the routine as outlined has settled down to a workable version and I am satisfied. However, I still dream of an elevator that would lift one more load into one tube and raise the zombie glass to its full height instead of the couple of inches that primarily show. But a straight 15-inch lift with microscopic clearance just doesn’t seem possible. Anyway, if you chose to perform the Multiplying Bottles and PUT IN THE TIME, you will be richly rewarded with responsive audiences.