Amaze Your Friends: 5 Props For Beginners That Will Make You a Great Magician (And They Each Cost Less Than $10!)

by A Manly Guest Contributor on February 17, 2010 · 17 comments

in Just For Fun, Manly Skills

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from magician Peter Sharpe which originally appeared in the Art of Manliness Community.

After recently joining this site and reading the post on 45 Manly Hobbies, I was pleased to see that magic was included in the list. I have been performing magic since the age of 16 (I’m now 24) and have experimented with many different tricks.

For guys who want to get started in this hobby or who just want to learn a few tricks to impress their friends, I have compiled this short list of 5 things every magician should have. The magic market is huge nowadays, and it could be quite intimidating for a beginner to know where to start. So I have picked these props with the following criteria in mind:

  1. Easy to learn and perform.
  2. Costs less than $10.
  3. Strong magic that I have performed and is in the routines of working professionals the world over.

1. Bicycle Playing Cards

Bicycles are the standard magicians’ cards. Most guys will already have some of these at home due to their popularity and use in card games. They are used by a vast number of magicians for the following reasons:

  • They are amazingly durable. Bikes are quite tough and last for ages through both practice and performance. For example, I bought a brick of 12 last Christmas (2008), and I just used the last pack for a gig in December. Excellent value for the money.
  • They handle wonderfully! Bikes (and most of the lines carried by the United States Playing Card Company) are famous for their finish which makes them very easy to handle, spread, fan, flourish, shuffle and just about everything else a magician could need to do with them!
  • They look great. The standard back and box design are both excellent, and there are several tricks which are based on the markings on a deck of Bikes. There are also a wide range of styles available and the guys at the USPCC, working with other companies, keep bringing out interesting new designs, including “vintage” ones that look old, striking red ones, and “arcane” ones made just for magicians.
  • They are cheap. Even in the UK where we get them imported, we can get a box of 12 for about £10 in the local wholesalers.

2. Karl Fulves’ Self-Working Card Magic (Book)

The definition of a “self-working” magic trick is one that does not require any sleight of hand or other skill on the part of the magician but works due to a mathematical principle, stacked deck, key card or other principle.

Whilst I do recommend that all magicians learn some basic sleight of hand, self-working tricks are a great place to start for beginners and will let them get out and perform as soon as possible. Even the best professionals in the world use some self-working magic.

This book was my first magic book and is still a trusty source of inspiration. Fulves offers a range of tricks including coincidences, predictions and gambling swindles. All are presented in a clear and accessible way that is excellently illustrated by Joseph K. Schmidt.

3. Sponge Balls

Sponge balls are an absolute, dyed-in-the-wool classic of magic that a vast amount of working professionals utilize every night (such as this performance by Wayne Dobson at the Royal Variety Show, starting at 1min 49 seconds).

This video shows the basic idea of the routine: a ball vanishes from the magician’s hand and ends up in the spectator’s. There is (as you can imagine) plenty of gags you can throw in here and plenty of other moves to spice up the routine. This does require a bit of sleight of hand, but it isn’t too difficult, and the payoff is well worth the work. This is a staple of my professional routine.

The best ones to buy are Goshman sponges which come in a range of colours and sizes.

4. The Invisible Deck

(There’s a picture of an invisible deck here-you just can’t see it.)

The Invisible Deck is one of the strongest, most mind bendingly amazing tricks you can possibly do. The effect goes something like this. You offer the spectator an invisible deck of cards, get them to choose one, remember it and put it back in upside down so it is the only card facing the other way. You then take a real deck of cards out of your pocket, fan them out and there is one card upside down! Shock! Horror! They slowly look at the card, and it is their card! You can then pick the spectator up off the floor.

This is an amazing trick that works on a devilishly simple principle the audience will never realize. It takes a bit of memorization and performance to pull it off, but no sleight of hand as such. You could quite easily perform this on the same day you get it. It has never let me down.

5. Color Monte

Color Monte is an ideal trick to carry in your wallet for performing at a moment’s notice as it only comprises 3 cards! However, the amount of magic you squeeze out of these cards is incredible. It is a gambling trick similar to “find the lady” where you challenge a person to find a money card. The spectator, however, can never find the money card no matter how easy you try to make it! This all leads up to a killer twist in the tale which will leave the audience stunned.

This probably requires the most practice out of all of the effects but the sleights that you learn will come in handy with plenty of other tricks. The excellent story and portability earns the color monte the final slot in this list.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nate @ Practical Manliness February 17, 2010 at 8:20 pm

One magic trick that can be done for almost free (it only uses paper) is the one I call the “Dueling Bananas”. I do not know the real name for this trick, so please let me know if you recognize my description.

Step 1: Cut two banana-shaped pieces of paper. Make sure that they are identical in size.

Step 2: Hold the two pieces side by side and ask your audience which one is bigger.

Step 3: Now, switch the two pieces and again ask which is bigger.

Step 4: Finally, hold them over each other to show that they are the same size.

This is a self-working trick (like described in the article) because it is really an optical illusion.

2 Peter O'Reilly February 17, 2010 at 8:22 pm

This is cool. I’ve always wanted to learn a few basic magic tricks. Maybe I too can be a great illusionist like Gob Bluth on Arrested Development or Criss Angel. Awesome article. Thanks for the help.

3 Kevin Y. February 17, 2010 at 10:20 pm

As a performing magician may I suggest two other books:

For the beginner : The Royal Road to Card Magic by Jean Hugard and Fredrick Braue. This book starts with simple slights and builds on each principle. Also, there are trick you can do even after the first chapter. (Also there is a DVD set out under the same name staring R. Paul Wilson where he goes through each step and every trick in the book.)

For the advanced magician: Expert at the Card Table by S. W. Erdnase. This book covers all the tricks you will need to be a fabulous card manipulator. This book had been suggested by many magicians I know personally, and I have heard it mentioned numerous times when reading about and learning new tricks.

Lastly, if you are going to take up magic as a hobby please know that it takes a lot of practice. This practice pays off, however, in the delight and amazement of your audience.

Keep them guessing.

4 Mark Nelson February 17, 2010 at 10:27 pm

There’s a magic trick I’ve always been amazed at, and I haven’t the damndest clue of how it’s done. Perhaps you magical people could enlighten me.

You offer an individual a deck of cards and tell them to choose a card, memorize it, and put it back. Standard fare thusfar. You shuffle the deck, then choose a card at random and ask if it’s their card. It’s not.

Here’s where the crazy part happens: you pull up your sleeve, and tattooed on your arm is their card.

I’ve seen it done nearly fifteen times now. It was a different card tattoo every time. How the heck is this guy doing this!?

5 Seo February 18, 2010 at 10:59 am

Sorry, from what I gather from many female acquaintances… magic is not manly, maybe to children it might be. I’d rather be the entertained than the entertainer.

6 Dan February 18, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Yeah, gonna have to agree with Seo, in terms of hobbies, women place magic right above model trains.

Still, I LOVE it, so great article!

7 Sarah February 18, 2010 at 12:45 pm

As an actual woman, as opposed to men conveying what they think women think, I have to say that I find men who do magic incredibly sexy. Of course, you can’t be a total nerd bomber and think that a few tricks will convince women otherwise. But if you’re already suave, then doing a little magic is awesome. How can anyone think it’s not manly? All of the world’s great magicians, from hundreds of years ago to today are men. There’s never been a great female magician. So it’s definitely manly.

8 total nerd bomber February 18, 2010 at 1:32 pm

What? No great female magicians? What about the Great Harriette Houdini ! huh? huh?!

sorry, that was my total nerd bomber side showing a little

9 Trapped in Ohio February 18, 2010 at 6:31 pm

If your interested in magic as a hobby there are a great number of websites that have forums that are immensely helpful. is by far the best. While all the recommendations are wonderful, I in particular am not a fan of card magic. I prefer coin magic, and J.B Bobo’s modern coin magic is a must for anyone interested in magic as a hobby.
Also Magic is manly! you have to present it in a way that is manly and true to you. Alot of the plots are tired and dorky but there is no magic police that says you have to stick to the certain ways to present illusions. If nothing else I was told by a Drill Sargent of mine that every man should know at least one good magic trick and a dead baby joke, but that last part is optional.

10 Ronald Arceo February 22, 2010 at 4:14 am

I’ve been studying magic for a long long time now. The first magic show I performed was in the 4th grade and I BOMBED it. But I was a kid… so who cares right?
Well from that point on I decided to learn as much about magic as I could. Now, 16 years later, I have to say the things I’ve learned in the sense of psychology, my limiting beliefs, my performances that sucked and the ones that were great, etc. I’ve learned a lot.
Any other magician can tell you that it’s constant practice, constant learning, and constantly improving yourself.

I don’t perform as much anymore but I did write a book on the things I’ve learned through magic. And how it can color your life in so many ways.

Anyway, great topic and recommendations on books and tricks. Personally, learn as much as you can about EVERYTHING. It makes you a better and more “whole” of a person in this world. And magic is a good starting point. ;)

Email me if you want to learn more. (No secrets though, haha.)

11 Kevin Y. February 24, 2010 at 9:22 pm

For those who think that magic is not manly, I have a story for you.

I met this really nice girl in an English class one day. We became quick friends and soon after that we went out on a date. I brought over my magic (this is our first date mind you) and proceeded to preform my routine. She was taken aback and loved every minute. Needless to say there was a second date and now, almost two years later, she is engaged to be my wife.

Magic got me the lady of my dreams. Try it men, and you may be surprised at the results.

Also one final tip about magic:
Don’t try to learn as many tricks as you can. Learn only a few and practice those until you can perform them in your sleep. I have heard many professional magicians say that someone who prefects only a few tricks is a better magician, that someone who only half-way knows a thousand tricks.

Once again, this is a great article.

12 T.H. February 28, 2010 at 9:47 pm

I don’t want to sound like some condescending hyper jock, but magic is not masculine. It is at best a gender neutral hobby. Almost all hobbies are good for a man, but are not necessarily masculine.

13 Tyler Logan March 3, 2010 at 3:02 am

Magic is great but for me it’s lost it’s touch. I’m on similar lines to T.H. above – it’s not a manly venture.

14 Douglas Lippert March 3, 2010 at 10:23 pm

That’s a bunch of BS saying that magic isn’t “manly”. You know what the problem is? The original poster advising tricks like Sponge Balls and Color Monte. That is terrible advice to give someone that is hesitant about performing magic tricks because those tricks are lame.

No wonder T.J. and Tyler Logan say magic isn’t “manly”. Even though the sponge ball effect is done by professional magicians, it will not entice a newcomer. Sponge balls are not a “manly” trick to be honest as it looks like you carry clown noses in your pants. But, professional close-up performer do use it because the magic is strong and is in the spectator’s hands.

Also, to the guy who put up the link to a magician’s only forum. Why on Earth would you do that? The Magic C*fe is not for people curious about magic. Too many secrets can be found that laymen on this site do not need to know.

Pick up “Mark Wilson’s Complete Course in Magic” if you are serious about learning a few great magic tricks to perform for your friends.

Please, don’t let the low price fool you. This stuff is gold.

Also, please NEVER expose the magic to make yourself feel cool in the eyes of your buddies. Never. Let them enjoy the mystery. Keep your mouth shut and practice, practice, practice! Don’t perform the trick the same day. Plan how you are going to carry what you need, when you think it will be appropriate to perform, what you will say. Again, practice, practice, practice! Have fun.

The link to the book:

15 Joel Bishop June 2, 2010 at 9:20 pm

I second Douglas Lipert’s view. I am an amatuer magician & the first rule of thumb of good magic, no matter how easy it is is practice, practice, practice. The second is to never reveal the secret no matter how much they beg. The reasoning behind this is that when the secret is revealed, all the mystery is gone & you have ceased to be viewed as a magician. I cannot tell you how important this is.

Another good book is, “The Royal Road to Card Magic”. This is an excellent book on card magic though a little dated. It takes you from beginner to advanced card worker if followed through from beginning to end & has some real knock out effects in it.

As for inexpensive & indespensible props:

-The Thumb Tip or “TT” for short. This utility device can be used for a wide variety of very good effects

- Invisible Thread or “IT” though you must be cautious with this for multiple reasons, the effects produced are literally miraculous. Though I won’t tell HOW to use it, I will tell you an inexspensive source which is wooly nylon which can be bought at nearly any fabric store.

-Normal handkerchiefs, they can be used for dozens of effects & have multiple uses.

-Half dollars

-small napkins

-matches (both paper & box kind though they are used differently)

Many other inexspensive props can be found by actually learning a little bit about magic & for god’s sake magic is a true art form please put some effort into it if you are going to learn & never ever give away the secret.

16 Will Tingle February 24, 2013 at 6:54 pm

If you’re prepared to put in some work, Buy the DVD set ‘On the spot’ – there is easily enough quality magic on there for a full professional act; and it all uses regular objects that you can borrow.

Also check out the book ‘Modern coin magic’ by J B Bobo

Color monte and sponge balls are great – but more ‘dorky’ than ‘manly’; being able to amaze and impress with thing laying around on the other hand…

17 Will Tingle February 24, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Oh and how could I forget “Mark Wilson’s Encyclopedia of Magic” – it makes a great 1st magic book, and is good enough that you’ll still pick it up every now and then if you go pro.

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