The Salerno Candle – The Journey Of A Single, Amazing Juggling Prop

I recently received an extremely interesting prop for my juggling museum. It is a self-lighting candle used by the legendary gentleman juggler Salerno in his act. If you’re not familiar with Salerno, click here to read a previous article I wrote about him. As I stated in that article, Salerno (1869-1946) was not only an amazing juggler, but was a talented inventor as well. The candle is a great example of Salerno’s inventiveness as applied to his juggling act.

How The Candle Was Used


The candle, which you’ll see pictured throughout this article, is believed to be the one in the photo above or one very similar to it. Salerno performed at a time when audiences were not only amazed by a skillful performer, which Salerno definitely was, but also by the marvels of the electric age and things that might be considered “special effects.” The self-lighting candle merged these together. When the candle was flipped upside down, a mercury switch in the candle allowed a charge from a small flashlight battery to power a glow plug igniter, which lit some type of wick or other material that mimicked a wick. It was with the help of three jugglers who also have degrees in mechanical engineering that the design of the candle was figured out. They are Jack Kalvan, Niels Duinker, and Nathan Dorrell. Much thanks to all three for their help in reverse engineering Salerno’s invention. It would appear from the above photo that Salerno flipped the candle from its candlestick to a forehead balance, or vice versa. When the candle left it’s vertical position, it lit mid-air before being caught again. Audiences surely gasped at both the trick and at the fact that the candle became lit while in mid-flight.

Photos Of The Candle

Candle5David Cain with Salerno’s self-lighting candle


CandleTipA close up of the flame tip end.


Candle6With the outer shell removed





Disassembled as best as can be without possibly destroying anything. Two more screws are too rusted and worn to remove. There is a very old flashlight battery inside that could not be removed.

IMG_20160108_112459805A close up of the mercury switch.

Candle1Mercury switch and wires leading from the battery to the glow tip igniter tip


CandlebatteryThe bottom of the battery in the candle

Not only did I receive the complete candle, but Dieter sent a second Salerno candle that is missing the internal workings. It just includes the white outer sleeve and empty inner brown sleeve.


How It Came To Me

Obviously Salerno invented and used the candle during his wonderful performing career.


When Salerno retired, he gave it to his good friend, famed German comedy juggler King Repp (1898-1968). Repp, whose real name was Alfred Wolf, was most famous for taking Salerno’s Salerno Ring trick, illustrated to the left of his photo above, and making it into an absurd comedy trick, which you can see below.


King Repp

King Repp was also the first performer to juggle three hats, each dyed a different color, so that the audience could follow the tricks more easily. Below is a very rare photo showing Salerno, seated, with King Repp over his left shoulder and famed billiard juggler Asra, who was King Repp’s uncle, behind him.


When Salerno died, his funeral expenses were paid by Repp. Salerno had died penniless, having spent all of his money on his pursuits of aviation and inventing. King Repp had once worked in a juggling act with the father of Dieter Tasso. When Dieter began to put together an act in 1947, Repp was a frequent visitor to the practice studio and mentored Dieter, who was only 13 at the time. King Repp gave Dieter a set of top hats and taught him to juggle with them. At some point, Repp passed along the Salerno candle to Dieter, who put it away in storage.

In November of 2015, I was performing near Sarasota, Florida (USA) and spent half a day visiting with juggling legend Dieter Tasso, discussing juggling history and other topics.

DieterTassoDavidCainDavid Cain and Dieter Tasso

During our wonderful conversation that day, Dieter mentioned that somewhere in storage, he had a self-lighting candle used by Salerno, given to him by King Repp. I asked that if he ever came across it that I’d love to see photos of it. Well, several months later a package arrived on my doorstep, containing the candle. Dieter had already been quite generous to me, giving me three cigar boxes and two top hats for the juggling museum. Now he was giving me an amazing prop from one of my favorite jugglers of all time. Dieter, you’re the best!


Interestingly enough, I have two other Salerno props in my juggling museum that also passed through the hands of multiple famous jugglers. These are the two plates shown below.


They were used by Salerno in the early part of the 1900s. In 1918, Salerno gave them to Kara, the inventor of gentleman juggler and his chief rival, because Kara had just been released from being a prisoner of war during World War I. He had been unfortunate enough to have been performing in France when the war broke out in 1914 and spent four years locked away. When Kara was released, he had no props. Salerno generously gave Kara enough props to put together an act and start performing again. These two plates were some of those props. From Kara, the plates went to the famed American juggler Bobby May. Bobby eventually passed them along to Joe Sullivan, who gave them to me in 2013.

If you’d like to see these and hundreds of other amazing pieces of juggling history, you can arrange to visit the Historical Juggling Props Museum located near Cincinnati, Ohio (USA). You can also visit to see the collection online.

Museum1 (1024x926)



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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