In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the history and development of juggling rings. In this second half of the discussion, we’ll focus on various innovative, functional, and novelty rings.
Innovative and Functional Rings
Ernest Montego was the first juggler I’m aware of to put “edge bumpers” on his rings to make them easier on the hands. Jay Green did this with his Supersonic Rainbow rings as well. You can see both of these below.
The earliest known attempt to mass market juggling rings was as part of The Learn To Juggle With Jay Green Juggling Set that came out in the mid 1970s. It was released by Pastime Industries Ltd. of New York, NY (USA). The rings in it were cardboard, making them the only known retail juggling rings to be made using that material.
In the 1980s, Jugglebug released the Merlo ring, a standard ring with holes throughout it’s body. This made the ring lighter and easier to use outdoors in windy conditions. It was created by American juggler Larry Merlo. Mister Babache now makes wind rings almost exactly like the Merlo rings.
When visitors tour the Museum of Juggling History, there is one ring that always gets more attention than any other. This is Alexander Kiss’ amazing aircraft aluminum ring. It is very rigid yet very light. You can see it below.
Renegade Juggling and RDL have been making a wide variety of innovative rings for many years. Perhaps their best known of these are their hollow rings, which are much thicker (1/2 inch or 1 inch) than normal and can be bounced. They also make fire rings and glow rings, as well as a wide variety of rings in non-traditional shapes and sizes. You can see many of these in the following photos.
In the 1950s, juggler Johnny Lux performed an act with a break away ring. He would first juggle three painted wooden rings and then call up a volunteer from the audience to toss in a fourth ring. As the volunteer was coming onto the stage, Johnny would get the novelty breakaway ring and hold it so that the ring looked solid. When the ring was handed to the volunteer, the ring would fall apart and Johnny would blame the volunteer for breaking the ring. You can see the ring in the photo below.
Chuck Clark recently donated a very interesting set of rings to the Museum of Juggling History. They are a rubber set of rings with one ring having a slit that allows the rings to be linked while juggling them. This is a rare example of something that doubles as a juggling prop and a magic prop. It unknown who made or used the set, but they appear to be at least a few decades old, if not older. The easiest way to use them is to cascade the three and make a high toss with one of the solid rings. While the audience follows the high ring, link the other solid one on the ring with the slit. When the catch is made of the tossed ring, the audience is then shown that the other two have linked. The rings are shown below. If you know anything more about these rings, please let me know.
Color change rings have been around for many decades. Lottie Brunn and Henrico are two of the earliest jugglers I’m aware of that performed with rings that were different colors or designs on opposite sides. While juggling the rings facing sideways to the audience, a juggler catches each ring in such a way as to flip the ring during the catch and throw it with the opposite side now facing the audience. This gets a great response from the audience and has long been a popular trick. Below are some early color change rings, showing both sides.
Starting in 1976, Jugglebug sold color change rings, which can be seen at the bottom of the following photo.
Today, Play Juggling sells “B-side” color change rings and Mister Babache makes similar “Reverso” rings.
The most mysterious color change rings were invented in the 1970s by magician and juggler Bob Blau. They changed color not just once, but three times, for a total of four colors. Here’s a description of them and their creation from the Summer 1987 Jugglers’ World Magazine. “This disconcertingly active individual has come up with perhaps the ultimate melding of magic and juggling: a four color changing ring. These three rings, changing red, blue, white, and striped cannot be manipulated by a non-juggler and could not have been conceived by a non-magician. It is the remarriage of estranged parties into the ancient “jongleur” – neither one nor the other, but the true magician/juggler. One could say that this octogenarian has literally reinvented the juggling wheel. Blau credits the original idea to fellow Texan Sam Gainer, with additional work by himself and Sam Hawkins. The idea has been in the works since 1974 and is now perfected. From the standpoint of magicians, it’s a good trick: angles are not important (but of course the juggler wants the flats facing the audience), and, although Blau would rather not have the audience closer than 10 feet to his “gimmicks,” these are stage props anyway and show best at theatre distances. The “gimmick” requires a magician’s smooth touch, a little sleight of hand that makes them unsuitable for close-up work on the street or by the untrained. From the juggler’s standpoint, they provide a startling visual surprise. Although a lay audience is pleased by the two-color change, the third comes as a surprise. And by the fourth, it’s all a mystery. The trick employs the standard turn-over in the cascade with the addition of a gimmick hidden by a little misdirection. It takes getting used to. They are constructed of a combination of wood, metal and plastic, and Blau has refined the device to make it lighter, easier to handle and more visual in motion.”
It is unknown what happened to these rings or how they worked, but I heard rumors of another juggler in the 1980s inventing similar rings. If anyone knows about either of these or would like to try to make their own version, I would love to learn more about them.