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Skull of Balsamo

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Skull of Balsamo (or Balsamo, The Living Skill) was an illusion created by Joseffy.

The skull, made of copper and decorated in a natural manner, had real human teeth are set in sockets with a lace collar around its neck. It would sit on a glass table and four spectators would be allowed to hold the cords supporting it. Its lower jaw could move and answer questions by clicking its teeth. The skull could also turn on its neck to appear to look around. When performed in a parlor, Joseffy would place it on any piece of furniture.

With no apparent outside connections, the skull would carry on a conversation by clicking its teeth the required number of times when asked a question.

Joseffy would introduce it by describing the dungeons of the Holy Inquisition and Monsieur le Comte de Cagliostro (Joseph Balsamo). While he was doing this, the skull would turn around on its neck and look about the room.

He would permit spectators to choose cards, to write figures on a small blackboard, etc., and the skull would tell by the clicks of its teeth the correct card or figure. The skull would also add, tell the time of day and frequently turn to look indicated individuals.

Joseffy had always refused to sell the illusion and ordered it to be destroyed on his death. It was however, acquired by his friend Eugene Bernstein.

The skull was passed down to his Eugene's son Stuart. It was then acquired by John Gaughan who restored it for a presentation by Max Maven at the Fifth Los Angeles Conference on Magic History, in November of 1997.