When we think about the advent of “modern juggling,” we often look at the first “big three” stars: Cinquevalli, Kara, and Salerno. These performers, who rose to fame in the 1880s, certainly started a chain of incredible artists that continues on to today. Before their careers, however, we have very spotty information regarding the top jugglers at any given time. Today, I want to look at some very skilled jugglers who worked on tightrope or slackrope in the 1700s. They are listed roughly in the order that they were known to perform, although career date ranges for these jugglers is unknown.
A Turkish performer named Mohamed / Mohamet Caratha was a celebrated wirewalking juggler who performed in Paris and London in 1743 and who was still performing in 1780. He juggled up to 6 balls and did balancing tricks with tobacco pipes, ladders, chairs, glasses, and swords.
Anthony Madox was an English wire walker who worked in the 1750s. Like Caratha, he performed both toss juggling (up to six balls) and complex balancing tricks. We have some illustrations of his work. The first is from 1752. If you look closely, you can see some of his tricks in the background.
Anthony Madox, 1752
The next series of Anthony Madox illustrations come from 1753 and show the tricks more clearly.
Duncan MacDonald was a Scottish performer who combined slackwire walking and various juggling feats. He was known for being able to walk the wire while wearing heavy boots, under which the soles were fastened inverted bottles, which acted as stilts. The following illustration, from 1753, shows an amalgamation of many of MacDonald’s tricks being done at the same time.
Duncan MacDonald 1753
Jacques Sandre was a talented slackwire juggler from France who performed during the middle of the 18th century. The following illustrations of his act are from 1760. As you’ll see, Sandre performed toss juggling (four objects: two forks and two apples) and a wide variety of balance tricks, sometimes while playing an instrument.
Some of the tricks of Caratha, Madox and Sandre are much more complex than those we perhaps think of jugglers performing at the time.
Joseph Bruns was a tightrope juggler who performed in Paris in the mid-1760s. He mainly worked with knives and swords, but also performed a trick where he balanced three pipes (a common juggling prop at the time) on the point of a nail.
In 1770, Mathieu Dupuis, know as L’Incomparable Dupuis, performed on the high wire and juggled three apples. He finished the trick by catching the apples on the points of three forks; one held in each hand and one held in his mouth. Dupuis was a French dancer of the ballet of King Louis XV. He could also juggle up to six balls on the wire.
In 1773, the Italian circus artist Nomora appeared in St. Petersburg, Russia and was a newsworthy performer. He balanced a ladder holding twenty-four glasses of wine and candles while balanced on a slack rope. He also balanced an egg on a straw on the edge of a wine glass held in his mouth while on the slack rope as well.
La Fameuse Prussienne
La Fameuse Prussienne (The Famous Prussian) was a female wire walker from the late 1780s who included some five ball juggling in her act.
La Fameuse Prussienne 1789
As you can see, there were talented and well-known jugglers long before Cinquevalli and, at least during the 1700s, many of them worked on the tight wire or slack wire.