Severus Schaffer (1867-1950) was one of the brightest juggling stars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Severus was son of juggler and circus artist Karl Johann Schaeffer, younger brother of early gentleman juggler Sylvester Schaeffer, and uncle to famed juggler and variety artist Sylvester Schaeffer Jr. His father was Czech, but Severus was born in Austria, where the family had made their home. He started performing at the age of 3 and eventually became the best juggler in his very talented family.
Similar to the most famous juggler of his era, Paul Cinquevalli, Severus was a master of juggling both heavy items and light-weight props, as well as combining acrobatics with juggling. He began his solo career in 1890 and changed the typical spelling of his family’s last name to set himself apart. Numerous reviews of Schaffer’s act from throughout his career were consistently very positive and he was usually the top attraction on the bill, which often touted him as the “King of Jugglers” or “The World’s Greatest Juggler”. Below is a detailed description of Schaffer’s act from 1903, taken from Ellis Stanyon’s Magic Magazine.
Another description of his act, translated from German to English, can be read below. Thanks to Laido Dittmar, Dina Scharnhorst, Gary Varney, and Vince Streiff for help in the translation.
“As the greatest inventor and demonstrator of the most difficult tricks in the art of juggling, Severus Schaffer is justifiably labeled around the whole world as the master of juggling. He earned that claim for the entire genre through he’s amazing inventions that were not only pioneering, but epic for his time. To describe all his tricks here would take an entire book. That’s why we would like to only describe some of his most original tricks with which Mr. Severus Schaffer earned for himself not only world-wide fame among the circles of his peers, but also with the public.
1. He came on stage riding a wagon, which he then balanced on his head, while simultaneously juggling a bag and a plate. First performed in Prague at Tichy’s Variety on February 15, 1896.
2. Balancing a sentry box, in which a live soldier was standing, while at the same time holding a hundredweight in one hand and suspending an adult man from each shoulder. First performed in 1906 at the London Hippodrome.
3. He balanced a large wagon wheel atop an upended chair on his head while spinning both the wheel and chair. First performed in New York, August 27, 1894.
4. Balanced an American bar on his head while an adult man stood behind the bar. First performed in Variety Flora, Amsterdam, June 16, 1913.”
Severus Schaffer performed all throughout Europe as well as in the USA and South Africa. He met his wife Josephine in England and made that country his new home starting in 1908. He lived in England the rest of his life except during World War I, during which he lived in Switzerland. Early in his career, he had worked in Russia and become a favorite performer of Czar Nicholas II. Below is a short article from 1900 that discusses his friendship with the czar as well as some other interesting facts.
Schaffer performed for many years before passing away at the age of 83. At the peak of his career, he was perhaps the fourth most famous juggler in the world, with Cinquevalli, Kara, and Salerno being the three contemporary jugglers best known at the time. Some of his tricks have not been copied by any other jugglers to the best of my knowledge.