Lots of folks (kids, especially) start down their magic road with a starter kit of some kind. Usually these box sets contain several gaff tricks that people can use right away. I can see the logic in that. But I don’t think it’s the best idea. Let me ask you a question. What would be more magical?
Someone shows you that they have 2 coins in their right hand and 1 coin in their left. They do quick move and suddenly there are 2 coins in the right hand and only 1 in the left. Then…
A. You are shown the secret (let’s say you’re in a magic shop, since magicians don’t give aways their secrets to just anybody:)), and it involved gaffed (trick) coins. Or…
B. You are shown the secret and it was all done with REAL coins, using nothing but sleight-of-hand.
My answer is always going to be B. This may not be universal. But I remember having the exact same thing happen to me in a magic shop. I have been learning coin magic for about 4 months – no gaffs. I learned only how to manipulate real coins to create the magic. A magician in the shop showed me an amazing trick. I asked how he did it and he showed me the fake coins. I felt a bit like he had cheated.
I know, I know. All magic involves deception. It wouldn’t work otherwise. You direct spectators to to believe a thing is in one hand when it is really in the other, etc. And many large stage effects simply could not work without hidden mechanisms. Ever try sawing a lady in half with just sleight-of-hand?
But with close-up magic, I believe there is something much more amazing about tricks that can be done with real coins and real cards. It implies more skill on the part of the magician, who must practice for many hundreds (or thousands!) of hours to develop the skills.
My opinion here is not shared by the entire world of magic. In fact, the owner of the shop where I saw the gaffed trick said to me “but the spectators don’t know the difference between the props – whether a gaff was used or not.” And I had to agree. The goal is to delight your spectators with seemingly impossible “magic.” Should the means matter? I guess not. But I think a magician will be much better off down the road if they develop the skills of gaff-less magic early. Then once that is done, they can introduce the gaffs as needed. It is more of a sequence thing for me.
My Starter Kit Recommendation
So if you are minded to get someone a starter magic kit, here is my recommendation. Build your own with the following items:
- A pack of 4 sponge balls
- 5 half-dollars (you may need to hit eBay for these if your bank doesn’t carry these. They are perfect for adult hands. If the kit is for a kid, then ordinary quarters will probably do.
- A wand with some weight to it – made of wood or something similar. Don’t get a plastic one. It needs to be heavy enough to spin in the hand.
- 2 decks of playing cards.
- A set of cups and balls. These can be the plastic, inexpensive kind.
- A performance mat. These are usually neoprene or some sort of fabric with a rubber base. I’m amazed that most starter kits don’t have one of these. It didn’t take me long to realize I needed one when I started.
- A DVD and/or book teaching cups and balls*
- A DVD and/or book teaching coin magic*
- A DVD and/or book teaching sponge ball magic*
- A DVD and/or book teaching card magic*
- As an alternative to the separate books/videos, you might want to just include a general book on magic.**
* There are so many to choose from that I recommend checking out this thread (Magic Books & Videos for Beginners) on The Magic Cafe forum. Speaking of the Magic Cafe forum, joining THAT might be a good idea as well, since there are lots of helpful folks there who can answer all kinds of questions as you progress. Once someone has decided they are ready for more and different or more difficult books and DVDs, you will have an incredible selection of choices by just asking on TMC forum.
As far as books and/or DVDs I used and still recommend:
- For coins, the best advice for about 60 years is still valid and it’s Modern Coin Magic, by JJ Bobo. As for DVDs – you cannot go wrong starting with Expert Coin Magic Made Easy (a 3-DVD set) by David Roth. It’s excellent.
- For cards, perhaps the most widely recommended book (actually it’s a series, but you can get the books one at a time) is Card College, by Roberto Giobbi.
- For sponge balls, I have really loved Essentials in Magic – Sponge Balls, by Daryl.
- For cups and balls, there are lots to choose from but I have really liked anything by Michael Ammar. His The Complete Cups & Balls Michael Ammar DVD set is probably the most widely recommended resource for beginners.
** As an alternative to starting someone out with separate books/videos for each thing, you might want to get a general overall magic book that has all these things in it. I have a couple and really quite like The Magic of Michael Ammar. Mark Wilson’s Complete Course In Magic is also good. Often recommended on the Magic Cafe (I have not seen them, myself) are Magic for Dummies and The Complete Idiots Guide to Magic Tricks.
I hope this helps lead to some amazing magic starter kits for someone in your life (including yourself:)).