Burling Hull was indeed an excellent billiard ball manipulator, and this is a very good introduction to the art.
For thirty-five years we have been giving and watching programs of magic, and in all this time we have not known a single instance of an audience failing to receive with enthusiasm a first-rate exhibition of billiard-ball work. Properly done, with a moderate display of grace and with appropriate musical accompaniment, the "billiard-ball trick" is as pleasing a demonstration of dexterity as anyone could wish to see. Among the performers of the past who presented it with great distinction were Paul Valadon, J. Warren Keane, Martin Chapender, and Arnold DeBiere. The finest billiard-ball manipulation we have witnessed in more recent years was that of Richard Cardini, in whose hands this feat is both puzzling and charming.
Apart from the fine hundred-page section on billiard balls in Gaultier's La Prestidigitation sans Appareils (which has, for most English-speaking magicians, the double disadvantage of being available only in French, and at a very high price since the book is exceedingly scarce), we know of no treatise on sleights with balls that is comparable to Burling Hull's Expert Billiard Ball Manipulation, which was first published in 1910 and has since run through many editions. The present edition is in two parts. Part I contains 46 pages and 108 photographic halftones, and Part II has 42 pages with 81 similar illustrations. Though bound separately (in soft boards), neither "part" is complete without the other, and the two should be thought of as belonging together. We wish that the current edition were published in a single volume, as was the edition of 1910, but perhaps we should be grateful that it is available in any form. It may be noted that some of the plates are beginning to show signs of wear (though the impressions are always sufficiently clear for practical purposes), and that a number of "literary lapses" and typographical errors have crept into the text. On the credit side of the record, so far as book-making is concerned, we should report that the book is set up in unusually large, clear type, and is printed on exceptionally heavy coated paper, so that the halftone cuts, on the whole, are reproduced faithfully.
As is evident from the use of so many illustrations (189 in all), Mr. Hull depends largely upon visual presentation to make his explanations clear. He also employs the device of continually referring to "mistakes" that are commonly made by learners, so that his students, being forewarned, may avoid these errors. The text itself is concise, but is at the same time sufficiently detailed to be understandable since it is so amply fortified with photographic illustrations. Perhaps the best evidence that Mr. Hull has done a good job is the fact that for almost thirty-five years this book has had the field to itself; and the further fact that, though the price is substantially higher now than in 1910, we have it on good authority that Expert Billiard Ball Manipulation is today selling faster than ever before.
The secret of successful billiard-ball manipulation is the ability to "produce" and "vanish" a solid ball; and this ability, of course, has its basis in palming. Since a "production," to be effective, must come from apparently empty hands, and a "vanish," to be convincing, must seem to leave the hands "absolutely empty," much of the magic of billiard-ball work depends upon being able to show both hands empty, back and front, while in reality a ball is concealed in one hand or the other. The sleights that apparently "acquit" the hands of all guilt are called "acquitments" by Mr. Hull; and some of the most valuable material in the book is of this type. Indeed, practically the whole of Part I is made up of explanations of various methods of "vanishing" (that is, palming) and "acquitting" - and rightly so, for this is the stuff of which good billiard-ball manipulation is made. Because the basic actions of billiard ball manipulation are, after all, much the same, it is important to give them the appearance of being different. It is on this account that the billiard-ball manipulator needs to have many "vanishes" and many "acquitments" at his command. Thus he avoids the appearance of being repetitious, and also lessens greatly the danger of being detected.
In addition to giving advice on the care of the hands, finger exercises, hints on the best kind of balls to use, and suggestions about "pockets," and describing "primary," "advanced," and "original" sleights, Part I teaches the reader several tricks. Among the best of these are The Burling Hull Handkerchief and Ball Production, Hypnotic Balls (in which a red and a white ball, wrapped in separate handkerchiefs, change places), The Burling Hull Ball and Cone Flight (the magical passage of a ball under an empty cone), and The Cone Flight (the disappearance of a ball from a paper cone). These feats are very good and not too difficult.
Part II also explains a number of sleights and tricks, the most effective of which are a color-changing trick called Rainbow Spheres, The Ball Through the Handkerchief, and several methods of doing The Multiplying Billiard Balls. But most of the space in Part II is given over to descriptions of "special balls," a "vest servante,"' "pulls,"' "clips,"' "holders,"' and other appliances which may appeal to the student who has not yet developed great manipulative skill, and also to others who may, with the aid of these fakes, get results that are unattainable by pure sleight-of-hand. One interesting item is a series of sleights with a billiard-ball shell, in which the backhand palm is employed.
Expert Billiard Ball Manipulation was written when the author was a very young man who obviously was not suffering from an excess of modesty. He occasionally assumes a tone of superiority which is likely to prove irritating to some readers. And at times he tends to generalize from wholly inadequate data. He says, for example, in his "concluding remarks": "If your hands are large and very large knuckled, you are quite fond of watching ball manipulations .... If your fingers are slim and smooth, you are naturally quick at comprehending the most intricate moves long before the ordinary pupil. ... If you have short fingers, rather thick and rough, you will find it hard to understand intricate moves, but you can carry almost any trick off successfully by your natural talkative ability." This, we submit, is sheer nonsense, and utterly without scientific foundation. We must not take these minor defects too seriously, however, for they are doubtless chargeable to the assurance and enthusiasm that go with extreme youth. We feel sure that Mr. Hull would temper his statements if he were writing the book today. In any event, Expert Billiard Ball Manipulation is the best book in English in its field, and is bound to be of interest and benefit to every magician who presents, or wants to present, tricks with balls.