Three Obscure Historical Juggling Props

One of my favorite parts of being a juggling historian is discovering juggling props of the past of which we were mostly or completely unaware. In the past, I’ve written about cup sticks and hand bells, table lamps, the whirligig, Breenos, the Kara Box, the Birds in the Tree, and other such props. The publication of these articles has sometimes resulted in a resurgence in the use of these props. Today, I want to discuss three more rare props. These are quite obscure, so finding any evidence of them at all has been very difficult. Like most tricks of the late 1800s and very early 1900s, it’s difficult to separate the prop from the routine, as props tended to be extremely routine/trick dependent, unlike our current use of most props for a wide variety of tricks and routines. So, let’s take a look at the first of these props/tricks/routines.

Mar Tina’s Loop

We will start with the rarest of the three props discussed today. It was used by a juggler known as Mar Tina, who was advertised as the “Jap of Japs” and the “American Jap” juggler. This could mean that he was an American of Japanese descent or an American pretending to be Japanese, as was often the case in the entertainment world in the early 1900s. I have found references to Mar Tina performing in 1906, 1907, and 1908. He performed a comedy act.

The prop that he used is what I refer to as Mar Tina’s Loop. As you can see below, it is a looped track with a handle.

This is somewhat similar to a small Salerno Ring held in the hand, but instead of having a closed loop, Mar Tina’s prop had and entrance and exit ramp to the loop. As you can hopefully see in the illustration, a ball was rolled inside the loop. It is my educated guess that the ball would exit the loop, fly over the top of the loop, and enter it again on the opposite side. To test this hypothesis, I made a small version using a Hot Wheels track, a wooden handle, and some wire. You can see the results of about ten minutes of practice with it below.

I believe that a version with a bigger loop, like the one Mar Tina used, and some higher track walls would be fairly easy to master. If a juggler used the Loop and two balls, there would be many possibilities.

Swedish juggling innovator Ameron Rosvall created a multiple looped prop without a handle that worked similarly. You can see it below.

 

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It is unknown if Mar Tina invented the prop or copied another performer. I have never seen or read anything about any other jugglers of the past using this prop.

The Silver Bow and 3 Balls

The next obscure prop/routine is the Silver Bow and 3 Balls. The earliest evidence I’m aware of for this prop comes 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. The following illustration and description of the bow appears in the catalog.

“The performer sets three balls on a bow and whilst revolving in a circle the balls will obey his command, run up and down the bow one by one and stop wherever the performer desires.”

There is a lot we don’t know about how this prop was designed and how the trick was done. I would guess the bow’s “string” was actually a track of some sort. If not, then the balls probably had a deep slit in them and the single rail fit into the slits. Either way, it sounds from the description that the juggler turned in a circle and controlled the movement of the balls via the speed of the turn and the angle of the bow. It isn’t known in the balls exchanged places or were tossed off the bow during the routine.

D’Alvini (1847-1891) performed with the prop, as the two descriptions of his act below indicate.

The only other juggler that I know who performed with this prop was Joseph Rosani (1868-1944). You can see a photo of him doing so below.

Rosani

The Jumping Branch

The third and final obscure prop we’ll examine today is the Jumping Branch. Like the previous prop, this appeared in the Catalogue Of Fine Juggler Goods Manufactured By Prof. Otto Maurer, which was published in New York City, NY (USA) in the late 1880s. You can see it below, held in the juggler’s right hand.

The prop consisted of a center pole/handle and “branches” coming off the sides, which each ended in a cup, which could catch balls. A description of the prop reads, “Jumping Branch for Balls – Jumping from one cup to another with but a little practice.” It is likely that multiple balls could be used at the same time.

You can see the prop on the right side of the following poster from the 1880s.

As you can see in the first image, this prop could also be used to jump a glass from branch to branch. A cover could be placed over the top of the cups to provide a flat surface for the glass. In this configuration, the trick was called The Devil’s Glass of Water. The description of the trick read, “the glass of water will jump from branch to branch, up or down on a tree-shaped apparatus.” As you can imagine, the glass version is substantially more difficult than the ball version.

You can see the Devil’s glass version in the following poster from the 1880s, located at the center bottom.

Here is a close up of the prop.

When I was creating my Juggling History Show, the Devil’s Glass version of this trick was one of the first routines I started to work on. I found that it is extremely difficult without water in the glass and pretty much impossible with water in it. I settled on performing it with fake ice in the glass. Below you can see me perform in at the 2018 Catch Festival in the UK.

These three props have mostly been completely forgotten, but hopefully this article will initiate continued research that will reveal more details of who performed these tricks and how they were exactly done.

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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