Old Juggling Act Descriptions: Part 1 – Essmann, Charles Aldrich, and Frank Sylvo

Stanyon’s Magic magazine was published from 1900 to 1915 and 1919 to 1920. Issues often included descriptions of magic and juggling acts. In this series, we’ll examine some of these juggling act descriptions, focusing on jugglers about whom we know little. These synopses give us great insight into what juggling acts of that period looked like and may give some readers inspiration.

Essmann, the Juggling Waiter

St. George’s Hall, London, September, 1908

Review by Ellis Stanyon

Stage set to represent a Restaurant; several small tables loaded with bottles, plates, vases of flowers, etc.; also the usual furniture, chairs, hat stands, ferns in pots, etc..

Performer appears attired as a waiter, carrying a cloth and proceeds to polish tip the plates, bottles, etc., then commences juggling.

With Plates – Takes up two plates, one in each hand, bottoms of plates resting on the palms of the hands. Turns hands upside down bringing them to their original positions quickly, plates do not fall: this is repeated several times, various movements such as passing the plates over the head, etc.. The effect depends upon the property of inertia and quick movements to bring the force into play.

Juggling with Bottle – Full-sized champagne bottle thrown up by the neck (one turn) and caught bottom of bottle on the back of hand; reverse, and neck of bottle caught on back of hand and balanced in that position, and various other movements, the best being where left hand passes bottle behind back under right arm an over the forearm, dropped and on the point of striking the floor when the right hand reaches out quietly and catches it by the neck.

Throws bottle in the air, one turn, and catches it with forefinger in neck. Bottle placed on the seat of a chair.

Bottle and basket – Picks up bottle basket in the left hand, chair in the right hand and jerks bottle from the chair into the basket.

Silk hat, open umbrella and two balls – Throws the lot, finally catching the hat on his head. Hat placed on seat of chair.

Tricks with lighted match, cigar, candle, etc. – Strikes match and throws it up alight (one turn) and catches plain end in mouth: lights candle with match then puts match in pocket alight: the latter move, as always, creating considerable amusement.

Lights cigar at candle then throws up candle out of stick (one turn) extinguishing candle by catching lighted end in the candlestick. Picks up chair, jerking hat from seat (one turn) on to head then throws hat, cigar and umbrella.

Hat and Cigar – Hat held crown up in right hand, cigar laid on crown of hat: both objects thrown in air (one turn) hat caught on head and cigar in mouth. Hat jerked from head, caught and balanced on umbrella, thrown up caught and balanced by rim on nose – a clever move. Juggles with open umbrella, hat and a cigar: hat caught on top of open umbrella: hat thrown from top of umbrella and caught on head. Hat jerked from head onto peg of stand.

With Two Glass Bottles – Throws up and catches the one on the side of the other, balancing the one on the other in a variety of positions and the usual movements.

Flower Stand (small table), Flower Pot and Tree – Removes tree from the pot, takes up the three objects and juggles the lot.

Pig and Plate – Imitation suckling thrown up, caught and balanced on plate in a variety of positions, finishing by catching the “piglet” nose on in the centre of bottom of plate, striking his legs and causing him to spin round rapidly on his nose – very funny effect.

With Three Cannon Balls – Throws the three one of which is eventually let fall on forehead, the ladies nearly fainting at the sound, as they think, of solid wood coming into contact with bone. The noise is really made by the performer, at the moment the one ball strikes his head, striking the other two balls together and which are really solid. The other ball is rubber, but this fact is concealed by the performer catching the ball as it rebounds from his head, The two solid balls are then dropped demonstrating their solidity, while the rubber ball is either bounced on the floor or thrown into the auditorium. The later method is questionable, owing to the consternation if causes as, of course, everyone believes it to be a solid ball, still if the performer cares to take the risk of frightening several of his auditors to death it is, of the two methods, by far the most sensational. I perform the trick myself and carry in the waistcoat pocket a few small pieces of stamp paper (sticking plaster), then having failed to find the injury to my head I stick the paper on the solid ball knocking it out of my hand accidentally (?) in doing so finishing as above described. I may add that the sticking plaster addition is productive of much amusement.

Bottle and Plate – Throwing and catching bottle on plate, various movements. For a full explanation of this act, with six illustrations see my “New Juggling Tricks,” page 19.

Three Cigar Boxes – The three boxes stacked (flat) one on top of the other, thrown up apparently all loose, and caught ends on, one on top of the other. All pulled together by a cord, or elastic, passing through the lot.

With Six Cigar Boxes and Lamp – Six full-sized cigar boxes are first stacked (flat) one on top of the other, a large lamp (lighted) being placed on the top of the pile. The pile is then balanced on a stick, the boxes being knocked away with the stick, one at a time, from the bottom, until only the lamp is left balanced on the stick. Lamp is then thrown up (one turn) caught and balanced on stick.

Cigar Box and Bottle – Takes up an ordinary full-sized cigar box, gives it a jerk and a small champagne bottle comes out of it, lid closing automatically. Bottle is caught on lid of closed box, then thrown up, caught and balanced in a variety of positions, finally vanishing into the box accompanied with much laughter. Elastic on lid of box causing it to close quickly: rest quickness, quick jerk to cause lid of box to fly open as desired, weight of glass bottle and the property of inertia.

Basin, Plates and Lamp Combination – Throws basin and two plates. Spins basin on stick (centered) and throws two plates with other hand, throws the plates over basin transferring stick holding basin to the empty hand, catches and throws the plates in the opposite hand. Places lamp on pedestal pole and balances pole on head, spins basin on stick, right hand, and throws two plates with left hand. To stop, passed the plates under the right arm.

Tub and Chair – Spins large tub on pole transferring the tub from pole to leg of a chair, then puts one corner of chair back into socket on bandage previously placed round his head – motion of tub now causes the chair also to revolve rapidly on the forehead.

Performance applauded vociferously.

End of Review

I find one routine in this act very amusing; the pig and plate routine. To see the traditional bottle and plate routine done with a rubber pig instead of the bottle must have been very funny for audiences of the time. Below you can see another juggling waiter, Charles Carrer, perform the bottle and plate routine to end his brief performance. Just imagine it being done with a small pig instead of a bottle.



Empire Theatre, 24th April, 1903

Dressed as a tramp. Juggles old top hat, various and bewildering twists (no throwing ). Throws top hat, cigar, and one of his dilapidated boots. Finishes by catching hat on head, cigar in mouth, and boot (wide top) on foot.

Picks up silvered ball and knocks it with hammer to give impression “much solidity,” but when he stops the knocking is continued at “wing.” He “gets wild” and tosses the ball in the air catching it on the side of his head where it clings and he carries it around the stage.

Juggles with a large bowl full of water, of course spilling water all over himself and stage; tries to pick up and replace water in bowl, gets wild and rolls bowl off stage.

Juggles two plates on palms of hand;  Juggles several plates and throws one (cardboard disc) out in to auditorium to terror (momentarily) of audience.

Leaves stage and reappears wearing long fierce mustache, and announces travesty on Ching Ling Foo, original Chinese conjurer. While talking, long ends of mustache move about in a most mirth-provoking manner doubtless agitated by threads passing up through eyelets in wig to hands held behind back.

Leaves stage again and comes on attired in long robes as Chinese conjurer wearing wig with pigtail (rigid) standing straight up on top of head.

Throws metal plate in the air with a twirling motion catches it on pigtail (standing straight up rigid on top of head) where it continues to spin (spinning centre) as he leaves the stage amidst much applause.

End of review

Charles Aldrich (1868  – 1953) was a magician, quick change artist, and juggler from Cleveland, Ohio (USA). The above review has been edited to focus on the juggling aspects of the his act, but he generally fused all three skills into one act. Obviously Aldrich’s appearance in yellowface is offensive and inappropriate, despite how common the practice was at the time. To learn more about this issue, please click here.

Charles Aldrich


SYLVO, Tramp Juggler

Appears, attired as a tramp carrying a delapidated gladstone bag, walks very slowly right across stage and disappears momentarily at opposite wing, then reappears and places bag on stage. Takes off his gloves and blows them off stage, one to one wing and the other to opposite wing. Both gloves are, doubtless, attached to elastic which would necessitate the march past already mentioned.

Previous to removing gloves he pulls off dummy (hollow) fingers, each with a spike and throws them as darts, into top of table.

Strikes match on striker sewn on seat of trousers, smokes cigar, and puts lighted match in pocket, vest etc. and keeps pulling it out again lighted, actions suggest match getting warm. Duplicate matches and strikers, can be arranged as required. Attempts to juggle plate, and suddenly finds another match alight in trousers pocket.

Dexterously juggles a lighted lamp on a plate.

Spits on drop scene attempting to stick his hat there, hat falls to floor twice but at third attempt it remains suspend to scene, perhaps with the help of a sharp hook on metal plate sewn to one side of hat.

Spins plate on whip stock, lash end of whip at the bent part is balanced and spins on edge of another plate help in mouth. Knocks whip away and catches top plate, still spinning, on finger.

Takes hat off scene. Take coat off, brushes it and remarks “getting sultry,” puts coat on floor and wipes boots on it.

Juggles with top hat, dexterous twists and throws, with funny patter something after this style. “I make it a certainty (if the trick comes off) every time” (if he fails) to miss this trick sometimes, or “I always do this trick the first time” or “sometimes” as the case may be. This ruse is of course noticed and creates much merriment.

Juggles three bottles kneeling, and knocks each bottle as caught on stage. Hat goes on dancing on floor (thread across stage) and finally goes off at wing.

X. Glass on two cigar boxes; tries to throw all up and catch all “end on” but fails and throws all on floor. Keeps trying this repeatedly, fails each time, and “gets wild.”

Unpacks bag of cigar boxes, “all the gentleman are going to have cigars — when they buy them.” Goes to juggle cigar boxes, get warm and throws off innumerable collars.

Balances lamp on a pile of cigar boxes and knocks boxes away one at a time, and other and the usual tricks. Every now and then tries the trick “X” with the same result and finally remarks, “I will explain the idea to you.” Does so, leaving trick still unaccomplished.

Picks up pile of cigar boxes from table on knife, balancing pile on knife. Juggles three boxes a la juggling bricks. Wipes perspiration off forehead and throws a “bomb” on floor.

Does the trick “X” and shows, as he leaves the stage that three articles are all tied together.

End of review

Frank Sylvo worked at least from the 1880s to 1923. He passed away in 1929 at the age of 69.


Two more act descriptions from Stanyon’s Magic will be coming in Part 2 of this series.

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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