Forgotten Juggling Props: Tobacco Pipes

One of my favorite subjects to research and write about are forgotten juggling props of the past. Today we look at a very common prop throughout the 1700s and 1800s: the tobacco pipe. Tobacco pipes made of clay or wood were popular props for jugglers to use for various balancing tricks. Balancing tricks made up a very large part, if not majority, of a juggler’s act during this period. Let’s take a look at some act descriptions and illustrations of jugglers using pipes, starting with examples from the 1700s.

The 1700s

First we’ll start with some entries from the Oekonomische Encyklopädie (Germany 1797), written by Johann Georg Krünitz. It included the following descriptions of several jugglers using pipes for balancing, including one from 1722. This has been translated from German by juggling historian Lukas E. Reichenbach.

“He takes a wineglass and puts small clay pipes in it, so that the heads look outside. In these heads he puts more pipes and balances the whole building, which he continues to enlarges according to his skill, on his teeth.”

“He will present to the respectful audience a rare piece with 11 pipes in which he puts one pipe into the other and puts it onto the nose to balance it in the most curious manner. He will toss it from the nose onto the forehead. He takes a glass into his mouth on which’s edge a pipe is held in balance. Further he will put the pipe on the edge on the glass while artistically playing his violin at the same time and lays down and stands up again in the process, so that all spectators will have to admit that similar feats have not been performed before by anybody as by this master alone.”

“He took an ordinary, long clay pipe from Holland, put 6 shorter pipes into the empty head of the first, in a way that they could barely rest within it which resulted in their tubes not making a straight line (as that was not possible) but angled very unevenly. Nevertheless, the artist transferred this pipe, which was filled so carefully, onto his nose and freely danced around with it on the stage Sometimes even moving with strong, fast steps. He transferred the pipes onto the forehead with maximum quickness. He took his violin and played for his own amusement, stood on one leg, kneeled down, then laid flat on the ground. After that, he gave away the violin and took two swords into his hands as well as an ordinary barrel hoop. This hoop he moved over the tobacco pipes and his head onto the neck, then putting the swords and both feet through the hoop and many similar exercises. He also took this hoop, put the pipes on top of it, held it into the air and gripped the lower part of the circle with his mouth, only holding it with his teeth without pipes falling down.”

“He was called R. Dreissigacker, originally from Austria, and performed in our theatre in the evening by light with the pieces that have been announced in Sept. 1722. But, as he said, in more perfection than when he had performed in Danzig. It will not be necessary to repeat those exercises again, for example with a long clay pipe in which head he put 4 other pipes. He then put the end of the tube on his nose, the forehead and the edge of his hat and with his head bent backwards and his eyes fixated on the pipe filled head of the pipe, slowly moved forward and backward on the stage without the pipes moving are trying to fall but instead with the pipes pointing up as if they were nailed on or held by someone.”


As you can see, an assorted array of balancing tricks were performed by these jugglers using pipes. A famed wire walking juggler of the 1700s was Mohamed Caratha of Turkey, who performed in London and Paris in 1743 and who was still performing in the 1780. He presented many wonderful tricks, including balancing with pipes, as you can see below.

Anthony Madox was an English wire walker who worked in the 1750s. He performed pipe balancing tricks,as you can see in the illustrations below from 1752.

Illustrations of the slack rope juggler Jacques Sandre from 1760 show more pipe balancing tricks, as you can see below.

As you can see in the following close ups of the previous three illustrations, Sandre used a pipe in much the same way that modern jugglers use a mouth stick to spin a plate or ball. Perhaps this use of pipes is the origin of the juggler’s mouth stick!

A contemporary of Jacques Sandre was Joseph Bruns, who performed as a tightrope juggler in Paris in the mid-1760s. He mainly worked with knives and swords, but also presented a trick where he balanced three pipes on the point of a nail.

The 1800s

In 1832, a juggler / balancer named Mr. Adams advertised himself as balancing pipes, as well as tables, wagon wheels, and muskets.

Mr. Adams

In the mid-1830s, Signor Vivalla, formerly known as Signor Antonio, was a juggler, stiltwalker, and tight rope artist managed by a young P. T. Barnum. Vivalla included in his act some balancing feats with pipes.

Signor Vivalla (1836)

D’Alvini (1847-1891) was a juggler and magician who performed a very wide array of tricks, including at least two with pipes. Listed in his repertoire were “Pipes and Pigeons Balancing” and “Plate and Pipes.” The “Pipes and Pigeons Balancing” refers to a trick where one or more trained pigeons are perched on the top of a tower of balanced pipes. It is unknown if the birds landed on the tower after the pipes were balanced or if they were there from the start of the building of the tower.

The poster of Harry Rouclere below shows him doing the pipes and pigeons routine mentioned above that D’Alvini performed. The poster is from the 1880s.

Harry Rouclere

The Catalogue Of Fine Juggler Goods Manufactured By Prof. Otto Maurer, which was published in New York City, NY (USA) in the late 1880s, featured the pipes and pigeons trick, as you can see below.

Illustration from the Otto Maurer catalog, 1880s

Joseph Jalvan, who was born Joseph O’Bryan in 1862, was an African American juggler who was a star of minstrel shows in the USA and of international stage shows, especially in Australia. He often dressed as an Arab or Japanese performer and was billed as those ethnicities at times. He also performed the pipes and pigeons trick like D’Alvini and Rouclere, as you can see in the illustration and photo below.

Joseph Jalvan

Joseph Jalvan, courtesy of Leann Richards

This is the earliest known photo of a juggler performing with pipes. In addition to the pipes and pigeon trick, he also performed a trick where he balanced a lamp on a stick on a bottle on a pipe, all of which were balanced on a pipe held in his mouth. You can see this trick below.

Joseph Jalvan

Jalvan performed from at least 1890 to 1929.

The 1900s

Balancing pipes appear in The Art of Modern Juggling by Anglo, which was published in 1907. Below you can see the pipe section of the book.

Props for this same trick appear in an Edward Van Wyck catalog from 1908, which you can see below.

Joseph Rosani, whom you can read about by clicking here, performed a couple of tricks with pipes. One involved holding the bowl of a smoking pipe in his teeth. Balanced on the other end of the pipe was the similar end of another pipe. In this pipe’s bowl was the end of a stick. On the other end of the stick spun a plate, which in turn spun the stick and the pipe below it. This trick (bottom left) and a somewhat similar trick are shown in the illustration below, which I found in correspondence between Rosani and George DeMott.

By the time Rosani retired in 1929, pipes were out of fashion in juggling acts and died off. I’m only aware of two juggling pipes still in existence. One is a Van Wyck pipe that is in the archives of the University of Pittsburgh Library. You can see it below.

The other is in a private collection I’m trying to obtain for the Museum of Juggling History. If you know of any other pipe-related juggling history, please let me know.

David Cain is a professional juggler, juggling historian, and the owner of the world's only juggling museum, the Museum of Juggling History. He is a Guinness world record holder and 16 time IJA gold medalist. In addition to his juggling pursuits, David is a successful composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and singer as well as the author of twenty-six books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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