45-60 min.
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Flea Circus Coin Magic

45-60 min


Ages 8-13

What Will You Learn?​

A coin disappears right before our audience’s eyes and re-appears in a spectator’s hand, flea circus style.

Finding Our Groove

Flea circuses are fascinating. Imagine a real circus with a tightrope act, a trapeze, and more, but all in miniature and supposedly run by tiny insects! The flea circus has its roots as a classic vaudeville and sideshow act. Magicians have long taken elements of the flea circus and adapted them into their own acts, too.

Now, I present to you the Flea Circus Toilet Roll Coin Vanish! That’s right. You heard it here first, folks. A Toilet Paper Roll Coin Vanish performed by fleas! Don’t worry … no fleas were harmed during the production of this trick. (There are no real fleas involved at all in a modern-day flea circus, as a matter of fact!)

Prep the Paper Bag

Step 1

First, we’ll need to shorten our brown paper bag down to around 3″ tall. We want the bag to be shorter than the toilet paper tube (Figure A).

Step 2

Now, cut a rectangular piece of white card stock paper that will fit snugly inside the bottom of the paper bag (Figure B ).

Step 3

With a dark colored marker, make a circle slightly larger than the diameter of the toilet paper tube on one side of the rectangular card stock insert.

Step 4

Insert the card stock, circle side up, snugly inside the bottom of the paper bag (Figure C )

Figure A
Figure B
Figure C

Hack the Toilet Paper Tube

In this routine, the toilet paper tube will be our gimmick. (Makers hack things, magicians gimmick things. It’s the same idea.) A gimmicked item is one that carries a hidden secret which helps in the magic of a trick. We’re going to hack, or gimmick, our toilet paper tube!

Step 5

Apply glue all along one circular opening edge of the tube (Figure D ). We want this glue to be invisible when dry, so we’ll use something like a school glue stick rather than, say, hot glue.

Step 6

Press the glued end of the tube to the unused portion of our white card stock (Figure E ). After the glue is completely dry and the tube is securely attached to the paper, carefully cut the paper around the outside of the tube, as close to the edge as possible (Figure F ). Our tube now has a paper bottom (Figure G ).

NOTE: If you are using regular printer paper rather than the thicker card stock paper, repeat the gluing and cutting out process one more time, to double up the paper on the bottom of the tube and make it more opaque.

Step 7

Now, our toilet paper tube is successfully gimmicked! We’ll want to keep the paper bottom a secret from our audience, so be careful how you position and handle the tube.

Step 8

Place your gimmicked tube upright in the paper bag, gimmicked side down, next to the circle we drew earlier (Figure H ). The paper bottom of the tube should be imperceptible now.

Figure D
Figure E
Figure F
Figure G
Figure H

Prep the Matchbox

Step 9

Slide the drawer out of the empty matchbox. Now, this next step is a little tricky to explain, so you may need to rely on the photos. We’re going to hide one of our quarters inside the box, by wedging it in between the lip of the back edge of the drawer and the top of the box (Figure I ). Slide the drawer partially in, so the quarter stays firmly stuck in place, yet the box appears to be open and empty (Figure J ). This alone is already a powerful illusion! When you close the drawer, the quarter will fall in, so the next time you open the matchbox, there will be a quarter in the drawer. Go ahead, give it a try!

Step 10

Now set it back up again, quarter wedged and hidden, drawer partially open. Take your second quarter and place it inside the matchbox drawer, visible (Figure K ).

Step 11

Leave the matchbox just like that, drawer partially open, with one quarter wedged and hidden and one quarter visible in the drawer. Place it in the bag on top of your drawn circle, next to the toilet paper tube (Figure L ).

Figure I
Figure J
Figure K
Figure L

Decorate the Flea Circus

Step 12

Now that we’ve built the working parts of the trick, it’s time to design the look of our flea circus (Figure M)! The way something looks really can impact an audience, and flea circuses in particular are known for the interesting and mysterious ways they look. The more elaborate, the more intrigue and curiosity you create. They’re often meant to mimic the look of a classic circus, just in miniature. Have fun with your design. Use markers, crayons, paint … whatever you’d like. Use the paper remnants attached to straws to create little flags! Don’t forget to decorate your matchbox and toilet paper tube, too!

The Performance

It’s time to perform the flea circus routine! Invite your audience to join you around your table. For this routine, you can even be completely surrounded without risking the revelation of any secrets!

Step 1

Explain to your audience that you’d like to introduce them to something from another era, a nod to a time when tiny insects performed whole circus shows! Feel free to get right into a circus ringleader persona here: “Step right up! Step right up! Come see the Circus in Miniature!”

Step 2

Explain that you have a world famous flea. (Give your famous flea a name! Make it come to life for your audience! For the sake of this explanation, we’ll call him … Francesco.) “Francesco is a world famous magic flea who can vanish anything that fits inside of this tube!”

Step 3

Carefully take out the matchbox and hold it tilted downward so everyone sees the visible quarter (Figure N).

Step 4

Ask a spectator to hold out their hand, “You! Please! Hold your hand out!” Visibly dump the quarter from the matchbox drawer into their hand, and ask them to place the quarter inside the drawn circle in the flea circus. (Do not yet close the drawer of the matchbox! Also, it’s a good idea for you to keep the toilet paper tube steady with your hand (Figure O), so the spectator doesn’t accidentally knock it over and reveal the gimmicked bottom as they place the quarter next to it.)

Step 5

Tell everyone to look in the flea circus and make sure they see the coin!

Step 6

Now, you have a seemingly empty matchbox in your hand. Call on another spectator, “You! Can you please hold your hand out?”

Step 7

Show the matchbox empty to everyone (Figure P), then push the drawer closed (Figure Q). (Remember, the wedged coin will fall into the drawer when you close it!)

Step 8

Place the matchbox in your spectator’s open hand, and ask them to cover the matchbox with their other hand.

Step 9

Here comes the fun. Make sure everyone sees the coin still in the drawn circle in the paper bag flea circus.

Step 10

Then tell everyone that you have Francesco the Flea right in your pocket! Pretend to gently take Francesco out of your pocket and carefully drop the flea inside the toilet paper tube. Have everyone look inside the tube. “Can you see it? Can you see it? The Great Francesco! Can you see it!?”

Step 11

Now, cover the top of the toilet paper tube with the palm of your hand. Explain that you don’t want Francesco to jump out!

Step 12

Gripping the tube with your palm (Figure R), gently and slightly lift the tube and place it over the quarter in the drawn circle. (Figure S) Remember, the audience has no idea that the tube has a paper bottom!

Step 13

With your free hand, wave your fingers at the flea circus! Say, “Francesco is tickling me! I think it’s working!”

Step 14

Slowly lift your hand off the top of the tube and say, “Look! Look! Is the coin there?” They look and see nothing (Figure T )! We know that this is because the coin is hidden underneath our gimmick, but to your audience, it has simply disappeared! Don’t rush this moment! Have the audience look in the tube to confirm the coin is really gone. “Francesco did it! Wow! It’s gone!”

Step 15

Tell everyone to grab some magic and shake their hands. Tell the person holding the matchbox to do it, too. Then say, “Wait! Wait … did you hear that?!”

Step 16

Point to the person holding the matchbox, “Listen! Listen!”

Step 17

They shake the matchbox again, and the coin can be heard. Have them open the box. You never touch the box … let the magic happen all in their hands. The coin is there (Figures U )! “Oh no!” you say. Francesco was in there with the coin, too!” Pretend to grab the flea from the spectator’s shoulder and shout, “Applause for my helper and for Francesco!” As they applaud, you applaud, accidentally “squishing” Francesco. “Oh no! Francesco! What have I done?!” This is an old flea circus bit that can make for a great, funny ending to a flea circus routine.

Figure N
Figure O
Figure P
Figure Q
Figure R
Figure S
Figure T
Figure U

Pack Up

Place the box back in the bag. You can give the coin away to the person who helped you, or place the coin in the matchbox and close it. This will help when you put everything back in the bag so the two coins don’t clink together and reveal the secret as you put the routine away. These little details are important to pay attention to. A routine can be fantastic, but if we are careless when putting items away and accidentally reveal a secret, the magic is gone. Be mindful of your props, even when you’re not actively performing the routine!

See the build & trick in action!

About the Book

You don’t need to go far to become a real maker magician. To get started, you’ll need only what you can usually find in your home: items like paper, ziploc bags, index cards, coloring utensils, pencils, rubberbands, scissors, etc. The Maker Magician’s Handbook guides you through the creation, performance, and customization of an entire magic show. From there, the possibilities are endless, and by the end of the book, you’ll even be introduced to maker tools like 3D design, 3D printing, and programming, that will take your magic to a whole other level.

Mario the Maker Magician June 4, 2021
Mario "the Maker Magician" Marchese is a New York-based touring family performer with an all-ages theater show and New York Times-recommended virtual show full of homespun magic, DIY robotics, and punk rock slapstick. It's magic through the lens of the Maker Movement!   Mario has appeared on Sesame Street, NBC's Universal Kids, and live on tour with David Blaine, who calls him "the best kids magician in the world!!"   He is the author of The Maker Magician's Handbook and creator of the Chomper Bot Make: Magic kit.   Mario is also a featured maker for Maker Camp 2021!