The Bottle Conjuror Hoax

Nov 9, 2022 1 comments

In January 1749, an advertisement appeared on London papers for a new magical performance at the New Theater in Haymarket. An anonymous performer, latter dubbed ‘the Bottle Conjuror,’ was set to perform a variety of near-impossible feats, such as playing “the music of every instrument” on a common walking stick taken from the audience, and enabling any spectator to converse with a deceased person of their choice. But the most startling was the claim that the performer would squeeze himself into a common wine bottle in full view of the audience, and after doing so, the audience would be able to pass the bottle around and inspect the same, reassuring themselves that the magician was indeed contained within it.

The Bottle Conjuror Hoax

For days, all London could talk about was the man who was going to stuff himself into a quart bottle. On the appointed day, a huge crowd of eager spectators arrived at the theater to see the act of the century. Even the king's second son, the Duke of Cumberland, was there. Every seat in the theater was sold, and even standing room was at premium.

The appointed hour came, but nothing happened. The audience waited patiently at first, but as the minutes dragged on, they grew restless. Perhaps some music would have soothed the waiting crowd, but none was provided. The crowd began to hiss and groan. Some pounded their canes and others stomped their feet. Cries went out demanding the show to begin. At last a man appeared on stage and apologized profusely for the delay, and announced that if the performer did not arrive within 15 minutes, all money would be refunded. This announcement was met with more boos and catcalls. Some joker shouted that if the ladies and gentlemen would pay double the price he himself would crawl into a pint bottle. This generated laughter and seemed to relieve some of the tensions.

Then suddenly, someone threw a lighted candle onto the stage, and immediately chaos broke out. The sensible ones among the audience left at this point, while the rest tore up the theater. They trashed the seats and the benches, pulled down the curtains, and demolished everything they could lay their hands upon. They ripped out all the woodwork and carried it out into the streets and made a large bonfire. Everything that could be removed was dragged out from the theater and dumped into the fire.

The Bottle Conjuror Hoax

Photo: British Museum

The incident of the Bottle Conjuror became the joke of the town. One paper wrote that the conjurer had been ready and willing to appear on the fatal night, but just prior to the performance a gentleman had begged him for a private view. The conjurer consented to crawl into a bottle for five pounds. The moment he had done so the gentleman corked up the bottle, placed it in his pocket, and made off. The report continued:

He is still in the Gentleman’s custody, who uncorks him now and then to feed him; but his long confinement has so damped his Spirits that instead of singing and dancing he is perpetually crying and cursing his ill Fate. But though the Town have been disappointed of seeing him go into the Bottle, in a few days they will have the pleasure of seeing him come out of the Bottle; of which timely notice will be given in the daily Papers.

In addition to such absurd reports, newspapers published advertisements parodying the now famous bottle trick. One advertiser announced that he would jump down his own throat. Another offered to change himself into a rattle. Yet another promised to shoot himself with two pistols: “the first shot to be directed through his abdomen to which will be added another through his brain, the whole to conclude with staggering convulsions, grinning, etc., in a manner never before publicly attempted.” Another advertiser claimed that if a spectator would volunteer to pull out their own eye, he would replace them in their sockets “as perfect and entire as ever.”

The Bottle Conjuror Hoax

Photo: British Museum

Some newspapers sought to unmask the identity of the perpetrators of hoax. Did the theater’s manager, Samuel Foote, originated the hoax? Foote denied any knowledge about the performance, or the lack off, but he suspected that something was not quite right and tried to warn the theater’s owner.

The perpetrators of the hoax were never positively identified, but many authors believed that John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu, was the man behind it. It was claimed that the Duke was in the company of other noblemen when he laid a wager that he could advertise the most impossible thing in the world, and still find enough fools in London to fill a theater and willing to pay handsomely for the privilege of being there. His companions challenged him saying that surely he could not expect anybody to believe him if he said something preposterous like a man could jump into a quart bottle. The Duke accepted the challenge, and a few days later the Bottle Conjuror advertisement appeared in the papers.

For many years afterwards, the case went on to be citied in reference to the gullibility of the London populace.

# William Shepard Walsh, “Handy-book of Literary Curiosities”,


  1. I LOVE Your articles. It's AMAZING AMUSING PLANET!!!


Post a Comment

More on Amusing Planet


{{posts[0].date}} {{posts[0].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[1].date}} {{posts[1].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[2].date}} {{posts[2].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[3].date}} {{posts[3].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}