The white rabbit and the black top hat have long been symbols of the magician’s art, his uncanny ability to conjure objects and cause them to vanish again.
Rabbits first appeared onstage, popping out of top hats, in the late 1830s. Though the originator of the trick is unknown, John Henry Anderson of Scotland, dubbed The Wizard of the North, was among the first to perform it, in 1840, at the New Strand Theater in London.
Another nineteenth-century conjurer, Joseph Hartz, caused a skull to rise out of a top hat, while the French wizard Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin produced nothing less than a cannonball.
Whatever the object, the technique remains virtually the same.
The magician needs a table, draped with a tablecloth, which prevents the audience from seeing a small shelf, known as a servante, perched at the back of the table. Sometimes the table cloth itself is simply pinned up, thereby creating a small pocket in which to house the rabbit or other object to be produced.
The magician wraps a large silk handkerchief around the bunny and ties the ends with a rubber band. At the outset of the trick, he removes his hat and displays the inside, empty. He may even pass it around the audience for all to inspect.
When it has been returned he sets it down, right side up, near the back of the table. While waving his wand with his right hand, he grasps both the brim of the hat and the corners of the handkerchief with his left. The ends of the handkerchief are sandwiched between his thumb and the brim and therefore well concealed.
With a swift, graceful move, he turns over the hat.
The bundle drops into the hat, he removes the rubber band, and presto, with another wave of his wand he raises the live and wriggling rabbit into the air.