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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » A Hundreth Pleasant Conceipts - by Curtis Kam » » Ch1: BACKPALM (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Curtis Kam
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Theodore Nelson Downs gave many good things to coin magic, and amongst those, the Backpalm (described in “Modern Coin Manipulation” 1900) and the Downs Palm (“Art of Magic” 1909) are enough to secure his place in history. Our French commentator and translator has pointed out the great extent to which Bobo both praises and relies upon Mr. Downs’ work in MCM. This is certainly true, and one need only read Bobo’s Prologue, (where he refers to Downs as “the great innovator”) and the editorial notes he added to Downs’ “Miser’s Dream” to be sure of this.

Given this, it is surprising that Bobo openly also expresses his doubts about Downs’ ability to backpalm six coins. One would gather from Bobo’s comments that he felt it was impossible for Downs, and therefore anyone, to accomplish such a feat. However, two years before MCM was published, Geoffrey Buckingham released “It’s Easier Than You Think” in which he describes his coin act, featuring the backpalm production of thirteen coins, one at a time. Buckley’s “Principles and Deceptions” came out even earlier (1948) and it described John Brown Cook’s routine in which four coins are produced in a fan, out of and into backpalm repeatedly. These routines were certainly known at the time MCM was published, so at the time, Downs’ claim was hardly extraordinary.

I believe Downs could do it. In fact, Ross Bertram relates a story in which Downs vanished six coins this way close up, for Dai Vernon. (See Bertram’s “Magic and Methods”) As the story goes, Vernon congratulated him on the routine, but preferred Downs’ secret gaffed approach.

I also believe that Downs invented the sleight, and worked out the practical details. As I understand it, the backpalm with cards was already in use by 1900, but I have been unable to find any reference to the full backpalm with coins prior to Downs’ “Modern Coin Manipulation”. While there are many references to hiding a coin behind the fingers in earlier texts, the common practice seems to have been to clip the coin between the first and second fingers, the position Bobo calls the “Back Clip”. Prior to Downs’ work, the common method seems to have been to shove the coin through the space between the fingers with the thumb.

It seems that Downs changed all that, and it is his mechanics for getting into the concealment that Bobo describes. For the beginning student, let’s talk about the basics first.

The first comment most authors make is that you’ve got to find the right size coin. This is important. You can do the concealment with a much smaller coin, but the hand will have no chance of appearing anything but cramped. Some students have skipped this advice, and have dedicated long frustrating hours to this rather futile goal.

Sadly, it seems the right size coin for most people is something larger than an American half dollar, but smaller than an American dollar—the elusive “Seventy Five Cent” piece. I’m told there are coins from other countries that are minted in this size, but I’m not aware of any common ones. Given this, it’s odd that when magicians and magic companies manufacture palming coins, they make them in the same half-dollar and dollar sizes. Perhaps one of the new coin manufacturers will figure this out and finally mint the proper size coin.

For the beginner, there is little to be learned from working with a coin that’s too small. There is some value, however, in working out the moves with a coin that’s too large. There’s a certain amount of muscle development that has to occur. Very few of us are born with fingers designed to grip anything, let alone a coin, between the sides of our first and fourth fingers. “Working out” with a larger, heavier coin can speed along that development.

With regard to this, and the subject of learning to back palm multiple coins, the student may wish to pick up the upcoming DVD that teaches Reed McClintock’s training method for the classic palm. The same method, with minor adjustments, can be applied to learning the back palm, and should be effective, as it addresses the same issues.

Before we leave basic training, I want to point out that the front finger hold position taught in Bobo’s is not the only starting position for back palm. Arthur Buckley describes four in “Principles and Deceptions” and three of them are more natural in most settings.
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