Jugglers have been using knives in their acts for a very long time, and spoons have been used for balancing tricks and the Cups and Spoons Trick for quite a while, but you might be surprised to learn that the lowly fork also has a long history of being used as a juggling prop. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that performers used this household item in their juggling acts throughout the years.
Toss Juggling with Forks
Jacques Sandre was a talented slackwire juggler from France who performed during the middle of the 18th century. The following illustration is from 1760 and shows Sandre performing toss juggling with two forks and two apples. He would end the trick by catching the apples on the tines of the fork.
Signor Vivalla was a juggler who was managed by a young P.T. Barnum in the mid-1830s. Among the tricks presented by Vivalla was the following, described in a poster for the juggler.
The above trick is depicted in the following illustration.
Paul Cinquevalli (1859 – 1918) was the first juggling superstar. He featured a fork in two of his most famous routines. A description of his act from 1897 describes the first one: “Cinquevalli holds in his left hand a blow-pipe, loaded with a small dart whilst in the right he juggles a heavy knife, a fork, and a turnip. All at once the fork is thrown high into the air, followed by the turnip. Some fraction of time before the ascending turnip meets the prongs of the descending fork, the blow-pipe is used and the dart embedded in the turnip. A moment later, the united three are received on the blade of the knife, and the juggler claims his applause.”
The same act description goes on to explain Cinquevalli’s other famous use of a fork. “This beautiful feat grew out of another. At supper in St. Petersburg, one night, Mr. Cinquevalli’s host asked him to do something for the company’s entertainment. He protested he had no apparatus, whereupon the host (resourceful man!) handed him a knife and fork and a potato that had been boiled in its “jacket” – as every potato should be, by the way. The famous juggler juggled these things aimlessly for a time until the new trick came to him like a flash. Rising like one inspired, he continued to throw up the three articles, higher and higher. Suddenly, whilst the potato was falling, Cinquevalli sliced it in halves by a swift movement, and then instantly received half on the point of knife and fork. He succeeded first time, in fact; but when he began seriously to practise the feat he realized its extreme difficulty of achievement. The potato could never be depended upon. According to its texture, it would either fall perpendicularly or else evince a sudden briskness on being halved, which would cause it to glance off at peculiar angles. It was only after using almost as many sacks of potatoes as would mitigate an Indian (or Irish) famine, that the juggler was able to combat the vagaries of the erratic tuber.”
Kara (1867 – 1939) included a version of Cinquevalli’s potato trick, but also juggled a knife, fork, and orange in his right hand while juggling a napkin and plate in his left.
Kara with his fork, knife, orange, plate, and napkin
Salerno (1869-1946) also juggled with a fork, knife, and pieces of fruit, as the three photos below testify.
The Avrignys were a troupe of jugglers who performed during the late 1800s and early 1900s. They presented “the great feat of juggling three oranges and three forks and impaling the oranges on the forks”.
Anglo (1879 – 1904) was the stage name of Australian juggler Thomas Horton, who was born in North Adelaide, South Australia. Anglo wrote the first instructional book on juggling, which was published in 1907, three years after his death. In the book, Anglo included the following text and illustrations.
Severus Schaffer (1867-1950) was another contemporary of Cinquevalli, Kara, and Salerno who found a lot of success. Not surprisingly, he also included some cutlery juggling in his act. In one of the first tricks in his act, Schaffer juggled two turnips, a fork, and a hat. He finished the juggle by catching one turnip, which had been thrown very high, on the fork, which was held in his mouth, and the other turnip under his hat. In doing this, Severus Schaffer combined toss juggling of the fork with the other primary way that jugglers utilized the utensil, which we’ll look at next.
Catching Food on a Fork Held in the Mouth
One very popular use of a fork in juggling acts days past was to hold it in the mouth and catch apples, turnips, or other objects on it. Let’s take a look at some acts that did this.
In 1770, Mathieu Dupuis, know as L’Incomparable Dupuis, performed on the high wire and juggled three apples. He finished the trick by catching the apples on the points of three forks; one held in each hand and one held in his mouth. The following illustration from 1800 shows Dupuis or a copycat performing this feat.
The Royal Yokohama Troupe
The Royal Yokohama Troupe was a group of Japanese performers who worked in the UK in 1899. One of the tricks they performed was having audience members throw fruit to a troupe member who would catch the fruit on a fork held in their mouth.
The Zanettos were a troupe of European jugglers who pretended to be Japanese. They performed during the late 1800s and early 1900s and featured catching balls that were thrown from the audience on a fork held in the mouth.
The following newspaper article from 1912 details a bet regarding the Zanettos and their fork tricks.
Fred and Annie Pelot
Fred and Annie Pelot were a successful comedy juggling duo on the Vaudeville circuit from 1902 until sometime in the 1930s. During their act, Fred would juggle three apples and toss them to Annie in various ways, with her catching them on a fork in her mouth. From this, Fred would then toss apples out into the audience for him to catch on the fork mouth stick. He would toss apples further and further out into the audience until they were thrown from quite some distance. He was hurt often over the years with apples thrown too hard. He would end by having a plant throw a specially prepared apple, which would hit him in the forehead and split apart as Fred crashed to the floor.
Annie and Fred Pelot
Jean Bedini (1880 – 1955), of the famous comedy juggling duo Bedini and Roy, used the idea as a marketing stunt. As he toured the United States, he would perform a publicity stunt in each city. He would have an assistant toss a one pound turnip off the roof of the city’s tallest building and would catch the turnip on a fork held in his mouth. Crowds would gather to watch the stunt. In 1915, Bedini was attempting the trick in Washington, D.C.. The turnip was dropped from a 12 story office building and knocked the fork from his mouth, loosening many of his top front teeth. This was the end of this famous stunt by Bedini. For more info, see The Strange Challenge of Jean Bedini and New Findings on the Turnip Challenge.
Tom Hearn (1879 – 1954) was a British comedy juggler performing at the same time as the Pelots and Jean Bedini. A summary of his act from 1903 states, “Juggles three apples and catches one on fork held in mouth. Throws one to audience (a confederate who changes it for a hollow one) who throws it back, thinking he will catch it on fork; it hits him on the head and smashes to pieces and he falls apparently dead on stage, finally crawling back into bed.”
Anglo also included a section about using the fork in the mouth to catch balls and food. You can see this section below.
You can see one of these old fork mouth pieces in the photo below.
Edward Van Wyck, the early juggling prop manufacturer, sold forks for mouth catching in his 1908 catalog, which you can see below.
By the 1920s, forks were no longer popular among most jugglers, although a few such as Dick Ricton and Mack Nickel continued to catch apples and other items on forks held in their mouths into the 1930s and 1940s. There have been a few examples in recent history. In the 1980s, The Raspyni Brothers (Dan Holzman and Barry Friedman) ended one of their routines with Barry tossing an apple, which was caught on a fork held in Dan’s mouth. You can click here to see this. Currently, I juggle nylon netting balls and catch them in a fork in my mouth in my Juggling History Show as a reminder of this once common prop.