Few magic tricks produce more gaping mouths and widened eyes than sleight of hand magic. With a simple flick of the hand, an experienced and skilled magician can make a coin disappear or produce a live dove out of thin air. Sleight of hand techniques are simple enough for children to practice, but can also be performed with such panache and skill that even jaded adults would be hard pressed not to gasp in wonder. While sleight of hand tricks can certainly be used in stage shows, it’s particularly impressive when performed close up in more intimate settings, such as at a wedding or between meals at the dinner table.
Some believe that sleight of hand magic has its roots in grifting. Pickpockets and thieves would employ this technique in their attempts to relieve unsuspecting victims of their valuables. In order to keep from getting caught, they would often conceal the fruits of their labour up their shirt sleeves instead of in their pockets, where suspicious policemen were sure to look. And this practice was employed by con artists, as well, who would set up a shell game, in which passers-by paid to guess which shell was hiding a ball in order to win a prize. The con artist would simply sneak the ball out from under the shell as he shuffled the shells and simply put it under whichever shell the passer-by didn’t choose.
But sleight of hand magic isn’t only used to trick people out of their money. It can also be used to honestly make money, as people will play good money in order to be entertained. Modern day close up magicians can use sleight of hand to make it look like they have a telepathic ability to ascertain which card you picked out of a full deck. They can also use sleight of hand to make it appear that objects have either disappeared into thin air, reappeared out of thin air, or changed into a different object altogether.
In common usage, sleight of hand is a term used to denote trickery or deceit. But this doesn’t mean that sleight of hand magic is deceitful, necessarily. In most cases, audiences want to believe in the illusion that the magician has actually made an object cease to exist. There’s nothing that interests people more than the appearance of the impossible. And as long as people are interested in seeing impossible feats, sleight of hand tricks will be around to appease their interest.