The Buddha Papers
Updated: Mar 16, 2022
A couple of posts ago we looked at two tricks using folded paper in The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) by Reginald Scot, under the title of “To transforme anie one small thing into anie other forme by folding of paper”. As already mentioned, Scot’s second method is referred to by magicians as the Buddha Papers and is still found in magic books today, usually as a way to vanish a coin or change one coin into another. This is not to be confused with the other common method for vanishing a coin from a piece of paper known as the Coin Fold, which seems to date back to at least 1890 (Hoffmann's More Magic), and which I might try to cover in a future post.
After Scot, the next oldest source for this seems to be a 16th century Italian booklet entitled Giochi di carte bellissimi di regola e di memoria (1593) by Horatio Galasso. Luckily for us an English translation by Lori Pieper was published in Gibecière Vol. 2 No. 2 (2007), a journal of magic history produced by the Conjuring Arts Research Center (CARC) in New York. In Galasso’s description the coin is wrapped up in a piece of paper, and when the paper is opened again the coin is shown to have apparently melted.
The Conjuring Arts Research Center has also published a translation, again by Lori Pieper, of a recently discovered text known as The Asti Manuscript. This was never actually published as a book but has been dated to some time between 1670 and 1730. The normal version of the Buddha Papers is described along with an unusual variation using a single piece of paper.
Another description appears in the first known Spanish magic book, Engaños a ojos vistas (1733) by Pablo Minguet e Yrol. In this version there is no coin – one piece of paper has a picture of a lady’s face drawn on it, the other has a picture of a skull, and the effect is that the picture seems to change.
A later edition of Engaños a ojos vistas (1755) has the above version, and also another one where a blue ribbon is wrapped in paper and made to change to a red ribbon. Lori Pieper’s translation of the 1755 edition of Minguet (English title “Deceptions in Plain Sight”) was published in Gibecière Vol. 4 No. 2 (2009).
Yet another variation is described in the Manuel complet des sorciers (1836) by M. Comte, in which the Buddha Papers are combined with two “portefeuilles magiques” or magic wallets constructed on the principle of the Jacob’s Ladder tumbling blocks toy, and still sold by magic dealers under the name of the Chinese Wallet. Comte describes how with two of them you can do a simple transposition effect. The same trick appears in the anonymous Nouveau manuel de physique et de chimie amusantes (1858) and The Art of Modern Conjuring (1886) by Henri Garenne.
In Der Zauberstab: das Neueste der Taschenspielerkunst und natürlichen Magie (1875) by Professor Hermanns, and again in Magic: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions (1897) by Albert Hopkins and also Le magicien amateur (1897) by Magus, we find the same effect followed by a “simplified version”, which is in fact the basic Buddha Papers effect using multiple folded sheets, one inside the other. One of the sheets is double, and the opening of all the other sheets serves as a useful distraction when you need to turn it over.
The original version of the Buddha Papers as a coin vanish and reproduction, exactly as in Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, resurfaces again as the Paper Purse in Paper Magic (1920) by Will Blyth.
The version described in John Northern Hilliard’s monumental Greater Magic (1938) and attributed to T. Nelson Downs simplifies things by using two separate squares – the one you fold the coin up in and an empty duplicate which is simply switched in, thus doing away with the preparation involving two pieces glued together. The advantage is that the paper is not prepared beforehand and can be examined, but it does mean you need a bit of sleight of hand to do the switch.
As usual this is not intended as a complete bibliography, but rather just a list of some of the sources I happen to have found.
The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) by Reginald Scot
Giochi di carte bellissimi di regola e di memoria (1593) by Horatio Galasso
The Asti Manuscript (ca. 1670-1730)
Engaños a ojos vistas (1733 and 1755) by Pablo Minguet e Yrol
Manuel complet des sorciers (1836) by M. Comte
Nouveau manuel de physique et de chimie amusantes (1858) (anonymous)
Der Zauberstab: das Neueste der Taschenspielerkunst und natürlichen Magie (1875) by Professor Hermanns
The Art of Modern Conjuring (1886) by Henri Garenne
Magic: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions (1897) by Albert Hopkins
Le magicien amateur (1897) by Magus (pseudonym of Marie-Paul-Pierre Baret)
Paper Magic (1920) by Will Blyth
Greater Magic (1938) by John Northern Hilliard