Friends and rivals in equal measure, they were here for one reason. They had heard the stories, the rumours that had wound there way through the magic community and finally up to this esteemed audience. Stories of a shy man who shunned the limelight and would only perform backstage to friends and colleagues. A man who worked in the background to devise some of the most baffling illusions to be seen on stage and with skills that defied his youthful age. A man who was currently sitting in Harry Kellar's study, and was said to have performed the impossible. A trick so simple and confounding that it could not be explained by any who witnessed it. And now, the three greatest magicians of this era were huddled round a small, stark, table illuminated only by a single lamp, and waiting patiently for a performance to begin. All were sceptical about what they were about to see. All were equally confident they would see through the artiface.
The man spoke his first words of the night: ’1914’, he said as his head nodded towards the solitary coin. Four more coins appeared in his hands: ’15, 16, 17 and 18. The great war: one coin for each year.’ His eyes glazed, going back to some time and place no-one could imagine. The three legends leaned in closer. His arm was steady and outstretched, hand hovering palm down over the single coin on the table, concealing it from view. Each of the remaining four coins were then gripped between thumb and fingers across the width of his hand. The young man sat like this for over a minute. Eyes closed, he remained statue still. And then he started. His hand twitched and the coins began to move, his fingers seemed to dance like a pianist playing in the air and each of the coins glided seamlessly over his knuckles, before looping under and appearing on a finger at the other side. Like a river of gold, the coins flowed faster and faster. It was a skill to behold, but nothing to what would come next. The young man shifted his pose, sitting straighter he moved his left arm away from the table, ensuring that only the hand with the coins remained outstretched and the focus of his revered audiences attention. His sleeves were rolled up to the elbow, there was nowhere to hide. And then it happened, the flow of coins seemed to ripple and change.
Kellar was first to see. ‘My god…’. The others followed and leaned in closer. There were now only three coins. There was absolute silence as they watched in wonder as the number of coins reduced each time they flowed under his palm. Three. Two. Then one. The coin glided effortlessly over and then under the knuckles of his outstretched hand. Over. Under. Over. Under. The coin continued it's hypnotic dance. Then finally it rolled under his his palm once more, and never returned.
It had been a professional display of manipulation, the size of the coin made handling it a challenge for all but the best, and moving all four coins in such a way was something all of the esteemed audience knew would be beyond their skills. Houdini clapped, but it was the old man, Kellar, who reached over and gently quieted him. He nodded back to the young man. 'Let him finish…'. Houdini looked perplexed. 'Finish…? Surely not,' he said, staring in awed anticipation.
The mans hand remained outstretched - hovering over the place where the first of the five coins was placed, and the remaining five sovereign coins surely now sat. Kellar, Thurston and Houdini were now burning his hand with the pressure of their professional stare. His hand had not moved from the table. His other arm was firmly relaxing by his body and had not strayed across the table. The coins had to be there, hidden under his hand. There was no possibility of any other outcome. No possibility whatsoever. And then, without a word, the young man slowly turned, then raised his hand to reveal nothing but the empty table. Houdini was the first to speak. He uttered one word, a single word that would remain synonymous with the sovereign throughout history: ‘impossible.'
There are many secrets within the world of magic. Some would say, too many secrets. But this was never more so than during the early part of the Twentieth Century: The golden years of magic. The era was owned by a small number of legendary showmen. Their shows toured the globe, filling theatres and dazzling audiences with ever more confounding and elaborate illusions. But there is one secret that has endured the scrutiny of these grand masters of magic. A secret that frustrated, outraged and ultimately defeated all of them: The secret of the sovereign. The story goes something like this…
Their host for the evening was Harry Kellar, the grand master of magic was long since retired but was used to visitors seeking his council and conversation. He would spend hours telling eager listeners of the small armies of performers, helpers and ever more complex contraptions that moved like a wagon trail across the globe when his show was at its peak. There were endless stories of the trips to England, China and India to learn arcane mysteries that would form the basis of new and ever more grand performances. But tonight Harry Kellar was quiet. Respectful of the revered companions that sat within his study: Howard Thurston, renowned to be the best sleight of hand magician in the world. And the showman. Brash and bold, his name would echo through the generations: Harry Houdini. They were undoubtedly the most famous performers of the day.