Crystal Casket (aka Crystal Coffin)
Designer: Carl Rosenfeld (possibly)
A crystal box with 4 transparent sides is wheeled onto the stage. The box is covered with a cloth. The cloth is quickly removed, showing that a girl has appeared inside the box. This can often be done multiple times to produce additional assistants.
Many illusionists were performing with trunks and glass boxes before the 1900s, but it seems that the first person to use the glass box on a table for an appearance was Carl Rosenfeld. He also had his effect patented, giving further credence to the idea that he was likely the first.
Carl Rosenfeld filed two German patents (160,682 – issued February 26, 1904; 168,138 – issued September 18, 1904) followed by two US patents for this illusion. The patent for a version most closely resembling the one still used today (without water) was filed in 1904. The patent information on this version is as follows:
US Patent No: 787946
Filing Date: Sep 13, 1904
Issue Date: Apr 25, 1905
A second version of the effect (known as “Dida”) had water inside the glass box. The assistant appeared inside the water-filled box using a difference method. Though the name “Carl” was used throughout the patent document, the patent for Dida was issued under “Gael Rosenfeld.” The US patent office had the following patent information on this water-filled version:
US Patent No: 787589
Filing Date: Dec 6, 1904
Issue Date: Apr 18, 1905
Even Howard Thurston used the water version (which he titled “Creation”) around 1905. Thurston is pictured with the illusion in Robert E. Olson’s book The Complete Life of Howard Franklin Thurston, Vol. 1. Around 5 copies of the illusion were touring after the USA debut of the illusion in March of 1905 (Mahatma, Vol. 8, N. 9, p. 100). Interestingly enough, the secret of the illusion was offered for sale for $1.00 in the same Mahatma magazine edition just pages away.
Notable later performances include that of Jackie Gleason who performed it on television in 1957. In 1961, John Daniel (co-owner of Owen Magic) performed it as well. Later in 1969, Orson Wells performed this illusion on the Dean Martin show along with the Cremation illusion.
Note: This large stage illusion is not to be confused with the small “Crystal Casket” that was sold by Percy Abbott also in the early 1900s. Abbott’s crystal casket was a small box that was used for silk productions. A similar “Crystal Casket” is thought to have originated with Robert-Houdin as the “Transparent Casket” and later given the name “Crystal Casket” by Harry Houdini. Robert-Houdin’s version would allow the magician to vanish coins and have them reappear inside the clear box hanging from center stage.