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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » For the record » » What is a change bag supposed to be? Possible answer. (4 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Profile of FrankFindley
One of the questions which has come up numerous times on the café is "what is a change bag supposed to be". This question isn't confined to here, it has been asked since the late 1800s. In a 1899 issue of Mahatma, Hardin described "the plush bag" as resembling a "butterfly net":

This is a piece of apparatus but little known, and to my thinking, a most valuable adjunct to the magician's outfit. It has a very mysterious effect when properly employed, and the secret is hard to detect. In appearance it resembles exactly a butterfly net, save that the net part is made of red plush. The interior is lined with black silk, and the wooden handle is about a foot in length...[clipped to protect secret]...The bag may be turned inside out, at pleasure, and examination will not disclose the...[clipped to protect secret]...A very pretty way to use the bag is to bring forward several long strips of different colored ribbons, and request the audience to tie them up into a bunch of knots, and then place them in the bag, which you hold at arms length by its handle. At your request the ribbons are taken out again, when they will be found to be united...[clipped to protect secret]... The bag may be used in many effective combinations."

In another thread, Dick Oslund described his understanding that it was based on the church bags common at one time:

"'s a little history for the new guys....

Churches, at one time (and, some still do) used a "velvet bag on a stick" to take up the offertory collection. I caught the Andre Kole show in a church in California, about 20 years ago, and, the ushers used little bags for the collection. They were probably a "later model" than those with a long handle. Each bag had two round 'knob' on the ring that held the bag open. The knobs were diametrically "opposed", and the first person would grasp knot "A" from the usher, and pass it down. The next person, grasped knob "B". The third person grasped "A".....

Change bags were the topic in a discussion in an "ancient" magic magazine, when I was much younger. Someone pointed out that some magic dealer, realizing how easy it would be to "gimmick" a church collection bag, and that it would be an easy "upsell" to the unskilled magician, who was too lazy to learn how to use a dye t*be or similar gaff like a p*ll, made a few change bags."

But these two explanations seem odd as both butterfly nets and church collection bags tended to be much, much larger with several foot long handles.

Well, I might have found an answer. Recently I've become interested in Street Organs and their history in busking. At the time of the appearance of the change bag, street organ performance was one of the most popular forms, if not the most popular form, of street entertainment. They were often found every few blocks in the major cities from the mid-1800s through the 1930s especially in Europe.

When looking at traditional street organs, especially those from Germany, many are depicted with a coin collection bag of the same size and shape of the traditional change bag, tassel and all. It makes sense, if you were standing behind the organ with one hand turning the crank, a collection bag on a stick would be handy for collecting coins from passerbys. Many of the street organ buskers of today still use these traditional collection bags:




My hypothesis is that these coin collection bags became common among all types of street performers, including street magicians. Then it was a small step to incorporate them into the magic act. They would not have seem out-of-place at all for the time. Net, the "change bag" may have originated as a "change" bag!

It seems worthy of further investigation. Thoughts?
Leo H
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Profile of Leo H
Great photos and a nice essay on the history of the change bag! The classic velvet change bag is still a great prop--if used with taste and restraint. Like the Himber wallet, you have to understand its limitations. It's great for mentalism effects where slips of paper with numbers or other information on them can be switched for the force slip. It's best used as a subtle switcher, and not the catalyst that drives the magic. If you toss a red silk into the bag and it turns into a green silk, people will correctly suspect the bag.
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Profile of kinjite
Is there a change bag on the market that Does NOT look like a Church item? when you pull out a change bag it screams "Gimmicked Bag from the Magic Shop"
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Agent of Chaos
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Profile of gaddy
I have to fight the urge to hijack this thread and turn it into a street organ thread...
*due to the editorial policies here, words on this site attributed to me cannot necessarily be held to be my own.*
David Todd
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Good research. Thank you for posting this.
David Todd
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On May 17, 2023, kinjite wrote:
Is there a change bag on the market that Does NOT look like a Church item? when you pull out a change bag it screams "Gimmicked Bag from the Magic Shop"

The "tote bag" style looks like a normal drawstring bag. Ickle Pickle Magic sells it in several sizes and colors.

Fabric Manipulation sells one that is made from a Crown Royale bag.
Magical Moments
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Certainly a highly useful utility device and one of my all-time favorites. There are so many variations over the years and most of them excellent additions IMO.

My first fascination began when I saw the classic red P&L Change Bag at least 50 years ago. When I visited London, I actually saw a street performer have his lady walk around the crowd holding a genuine ungimmicked change bag in hopes of receiving money.

A change bag for all tastes and needs can be (and should be) had by all of us these days. There are so many ways to use it!
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