Juggling Treasures Discovered From The Late 1800s

The Museum of Juggling History has quite a number of props made by Edward Van Wyck, the famous prop maker from Cincinnati, Ohio who created clubs and other juggling props from 1895 to 1919. You can click here and here to see many of these. Up until recently, these were the oldest known juggling props in the museum’s collection and some of the oldest known to still exist. However, that might have all changed very recently.

In December of 2020, I was leading an online juggling workshop to a group of hospital clowns around the USA when one of them commented that it looked like I was in a juggling museum. I said that I was and explained about the Museum of Juggling History. He responded that he had a couple boxes of very old props in his basement. He went and retrieved one of the boxes and showed me the props. What I saw on the computer screen filled me with excitement. He had what appeared to be an assortment of props from the Catalogue Of Fine Juggler Goods Manufactured By Prof. Otto Maurer, which was published in New York City, NY (USA) in the late 1880s or 1890s. The clown said that he had been given them many years ago and wanted to sell them. It took 7 months, but I did eventually purchase the collection for the museum. Let’s take a look at what was in it. (By the way, the images from the Otto Maurer Catalog are all courtesy of Alan Howard, who owns one of only two known copies of this publication. Thanks, Alan.)

Rings

The first props that caught my attention were the rings. Being at least as old as the 1890s, these rings are 42 to 52 years older than the next oldest juggling ring in the museum collection, which is a wooden juggling ring belonging to Rudy Horn. The Otto Maurer rings are nickel plated and predate the transition from round-gripped rings to flat-gripped rings that took place in the 1920s and 1930s. They are the oldest known existing juggling rings in the world.

Otto Maurer rings in the Museum of Juggling History Collection

Rings pictured in the Otto Maurer catalog. From the Alan Howard Collection

Balancing / Spinning Whip

I recently wrote an article about the Whip Balance Trick, which you can read by clicking here. The trick involved balancing a stiff whip, which always had either a spinning plate or a lamp at the upright handle end. The cracking end of the whip is always bent and is balanced either on the jugglers head, or most often on the edge of a plate held in the juggler’s mouth. Sometimes the whip was made to turn due to the spinning of the plate (or lamp).  Now the museum has just such a whip. It is leather and is extremely well made. The butt end has a point for spinning a plate or bowl and the curved bend section has a metal pin that secretly inserts into a hole in the small saucer that the performer would hold in his or her mouth. It breaks down into two sections. You can see the whip and illustrations from the Otto Maurer catalog below.

Otto Maurer balancing / spinning whip

Plate / bowl spinning tip

Gimmicked pin for spinning on a saucer

Otto Maurer whip illustrations, courtesy of the Alan Howard Collection

Cup Stick

In 2015, I wrote an article about the forgotten juggling props known as cup sticks. I knew a few examples of these props still existed, but I had never seen one in person. Now the museum has one. You can see it below and in the following illustrations from the Otto Maurer Catalog.

Otto Maurer cup stick

Otto Maurer cup stick

Otto Maurer cup stick

Cup Stick, matching the above example, from the Otto Maurer catalog. Courtesy of the Alan Howard Collection.

Cup Stick from the Otto Maurer catalog. Courtesy of the Alan Howard Collection.

Knives and Accessories

The newly purchased collection included four knives. The museum already had two fairly similar sets of knives, most like made by Edward Van Wyck and Ellis Stanyon. What especially separates these Otto Maurer knives is the fact that they came with a set of very interesting accessories to make them more versatile. These include end cap covers that allow them to be attached to another knife or to spin a plate on it as well as a plate spinning cap that goes on the knife tip. I had never seen such accessories mentioned anywhere before.

Otto Maurer knives and accessories

Otto Maurer knives and accessories

Otto Maurer knife and end cap plate spinning accessory

Otto Maurer catalog illustration, courtesy of the Alan Howard Collection

A knife with a plate / bowl spinning accessory on its end cap, from the Otto Maurer catalog. Courtesy of the Alan Howard Collection.

Otto Maurer catalog illustration, courtesy of the Alan Howard Collection

Spinning Bowls

The new collection contained two brass spinning bowls and two sticks. One of the bowls features a cup on the top and center where a flame could be kept burning.

Otto Maurer spinning bowls and sticks

Otto Maurer catalog illustration showing the burning spinning bowl, courtesy of the Alan Howard Collection

Ball Sets

The collection included three styles of balls. There were four brass balls, five aluminum or tin balls, and five snooker balls.

Otto Maurer snooker balls

Otto Maurer brass balls

Otto Maurer metal balls

Plates

The collection included four metal plates and a cloth plate holder. They are in rough condition and are flaking their enamel quite badly. They were used for toss juggling.

Stack of Otto Maurer plates on top of a cloth case

Small Rolling Rings

The collection included two small rings, one wooden and one rubber. They could have been used to roll on a fan or on a parasol.

Otto Maurer small wooden ring

Otto Maurer small rubber ring

Otto Maurer catalog illustration, courtesy of the Alan Howard Collection

Balancing Pipe

I recently wrote an article about the old school juggling genre of pipe balancing. I was only aware of one other old juggling pipe still in existence and had never seen one in person, but now the museum has a metal balancing pipe. This one apparently was held between the teeth, as it has slits on the top and bottom of the bowl for teeth to fit in.

Otto Maurer pipe

Card Spinning Balance Trick Accessory

One of the most difficult items in the collection to identify was a metal ring with a tapered piece on top and a pin on the bottom. Looking through images of the Otto Maurer catalog, I was able to determine that it was part of a complicated trick involving a spinning plate, sword, ring, playing card, and plate. The tip of the sword fitted into the tapered piece and the pin fit into a metal playing card. The illustration below shows the trick.

Metal ring for the plate / sword / ring / card / plate balance trick

Otto Maurer catalog illustration, courtesy of the Alan Howard Collection

Mystery Item

The collection contained one last item that I can’t identify. It is a hollow metal ball that can be opened and filled with something, possibly. It may be a fire prop, but I’m just not sure. If anyone knows what it might be, I would love to hear from you.

Mystery item

This is one of the most important additions ever to the Museum of Juggling History. You can visit www.jugglingmuseum.com to learn more about the museum.

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 15 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-four books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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