Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts - Why Pull a Rabbit from a Hat?

July 29, 2016

It’s another Friday, which means another fascinating fact from the world of entertainment. This week, we are returning to the world of magic (you can hire a magician here) and perhaps the most famous magic trick of them all – pulling a rabbit out of a hat. But where did this come from and why? In order to find the answer, read on!

Pulling a rabbit from a hat is one of those things that people associate with magicians and is arguably more famous than cutting a woman in half, which has been a stalwart of a stage magician’s repertoire for many a year. Hell, even Pixar have done a film about pulling rabbits from hats! Incredibly, despite the fact that we all think of magicians pulling rabbits from hats, very few have ever actually had the routine in their repertoire.

The illusion was made famous by a British magician by the name of John Henry Anderson and was in fact a simple marketing tool. Moving from Scotland down to London, Anderson had been performing with a company since he was 16 and took his career to new heights through extensive promotion, gaining worldwide renown.

Anderson was a huge believer in showmanship and the audience being duly amazed by everything he did. Indeed, it was Sir Walter Scott who dubbed him The Great Wizard of the North and Anderson attempted to live up to the moniker in every performance. “It is the duty of all magicians to give entertainment,” he often stated and if a crowd weren’t rapt by a magic trick, he’d remove it from his act.

Amongst his most famous magic tricks are the bullet catch illusion, which he didn’t invent but made famous through performing it many times without injury. As a result, several rivals copied his version and added it to their set. Always looking to maintain his audience, Anderson then marketed his ability to pull a rabbit from a hat.

There is some doubt as to whether it was Anderson or Louis Comte, an 18th century magician, who created this illusion but the former almost certainly popularised it through his canny knack for PR. You see, Anderson performing the trick wasn’t due to any particular fondness or love for rabbits but because at the time, rabbits were back in vogue on the 50th anniversary of a most peculiar news story.

Back in the 1780s, a woman by the name of Mary Toft had claimed to have given birth to a litter of rabbits. Such a medical curiosity stunned England at the time and remarkably, even the Royal family and various doctors had got involved, believing the ludicrous hoax. All this had been forgotten until the news brought the story back to the fore in the 1830s once again. Sensing an opportunity, Anderson noted that he could actually prove his ability to magic rabbits from thin air. The audience lapped it up and the rest, as they say, is history.

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By Henry Fosdike