Postcard of the week ending
Saturday, 2 October 2004

Paul Cinquevalli (1859-1918)
Polish born, world renowned juggler and former juggler

Paul Cinquevalli

Paul Cinquevalli

(photo: unknown, circa 1900)

This real photograph postcard, photographer and publisher unknown, was made from an earlier photograph of Paul Cinquevalli, probably taken about 1900. This particular postcard, postmarked on 13 August 1910, was autographed for the English actress Phyllis Broughton (1862-1926).

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London Pavilion, April 1886
'Mr. Paul Cinquivalli, whose merits as an equilibrist we have recognised on many occasions, accomplishes wonderful feats with the greatest dexterity… Not only does Mr. Cinquevalli prove himself a supreme equilibrist, but, assisted by a pair of co-workers, he establishes his claim to rank as a first-class and original acrobat.'
(The Entr'acte, London, Saturday, 3 April 1886, p.6b)

Paul Cinquevalli

(The Entr'acte, London, Saturday, 6 April 1886, p.13b, advertisement)

PAUL CINQUEVALLI TELLS
HOW HE BECAME
THE TRICKIEST MAN ON EARTH

(In connection with the news that M. Cinquevalli was about to leave London for a while, the Editor of the Dispatch suggested that this clever performer who has amused so many millions in all parts of the world by his marvellous feats, should tell the world something about himself through the columns of the Dispatch. In answer, M. Cinquevalli has been kind enough to favour us with the following account of his experiences. – Ed. W.D.)

'I became a juggler when I was a mere school-boy, but the reason I became a professional juggler was due to a very serious accident that befell me with a youth in St. Petersburg.
'My schooldays were spent in Berlin, and whiles proceeding to school I had often seen the ordinary street performer juggling at some corner with a few brass balls, some rings, and several plates. When I got to school I devoted more time to repeating the juggling tricks I had seen than I did to my lessons.
'But I always wanted to improve what I had seen. For instance, the street jugglers kept three balls in the air, but when I could do that I increased the number and was not satisfied until I had kept five in the air.
'The I began to invent tricks. My first was with my slate and pencil, which I threw into the air, and after a great deal of practice I was able to catch the pencil, write the capital letter A on the slate, and then catch the slate before it reached the ground.
'On my way to school I would fill my pockets with round stones, and then see how many I could keep in the air whilst walking, running, and walking backwards. Another of my first tricks was done with an ordinary school pencil-case and pencil. Holding the case, I would jerk the pencil into the air, and then catch it so that it slid gently back into the case I had thrown it from.
'When I got home I think U juggled with everything in the house save the fire grate, and the only reason I allowed that to remain unmanipulated was because it was a fixture.
'Attached to the schools in Germany you always find a gymnasium, and I certainly got more proficient here than I did at my desk. I had never seen a trick that I was not anxious to do myself, and if I saw a fellow school-mat throw a single somersault I immediately threw a double, and went on practising until I could do it well.
'At a certain period of the year a gymnastic representative is chosen from each school, and he is sent to compete for some valuable prizes. The final competition for the whole of the students of the country is almost as popular as your football final tie.
'The competition took place that year in Berlin, and I was chosen to represent my school. My mother and father were naturally very proud of me when I was able to secure not only the first prize but four other principal prizes.
'At that competition a gentleman spoke to me, and asked me if I was not a professional, and I told him I did not know what he meant, and I referred him to my parents, who were sitting in the hall. I was proud that I had won all the best prizes and that I was the hero of the day.
'When I went to my parents I found the gentleman who had spoken to me had invited us to the theatre that night, and as a reward for my skill in the gymnasium my father agreed to take me.
'I had never been to a theatre before in my life, nor had I seen any performer save those in the streets. We went to the theatre and the gentleman came and sat with us for some time, and interested himself in putting questions to me as to how I learned a certain gymnastic feat.
'Later on he left us, and about twenty minutes afterwards I saw him appear on the stage and go through a very clever and difficult trapeze performance. From that moment I felt enthralled, and I knew that I must become a gymnast; it was fate.
'seeing how completely enraptured I was with the performance my parents hurried me away home as soon as possible, but I could think of nothing else save M. Cinquevalli, the performer I had seen.
'He sought me out, endeavoured to induce my parents to let him make me a professional, but they refused, and raised so many obstacles that at last I determined to run away with my tempter. I did, and four first journey took us five days, from Berlin to Odessa, and I went through as the son of M. Cinquevalli.
'I was then a little over fifteen, and my first performance – some time later, of course – was in the Zoological Gardens at St. Petersburg, where I appeared as an aerial gymnast. In those days a performer had to climb his rope, and we worked without nets. I because a "star," and in consequence of some particularly daring trick I was called the "Little Devil." 'The Russians were very kind to me and I became very popular.
'I was then working, of course, in the open air, and one day, after a shower of rain, an assistant was sent up to wipe the bars just before I began my "show." In working a difficult feat I had to catch a swinging bar, but the moment I placed my hand on it I found it was wet; it had not been wiped, and I knew I should fall. The bar slipped from my grasp, and I fell seventy feet.
'I had practised falling twenty, thirty, forty, and even fifty feet, but in my descent on this occasion I struck a "guide rope," and the result was I was picked up for dead, with hardly a whole bone in my body.
'I came to about a week later, but for eight months I lay in bed only able to move one hand, my right, and I used to amuse myself by juggling with the hospital plates, knives, spoons, and forks, and even the medicine bottles with my one remaining hand. A broken breastbone, a broken leg, a fractured left arm, and a wrist reduced to pulp were a few of my injuries, and when convalescent I knew that my career as a gymnast was at an end, and I determined to try my hand at juggling.
'I determined to try my tricks with new but common articles.
'When it became known that the Little Devil was again come out, the Zoological Gardens filled, and some 14,000 to 15,000 persons passed the turnstiles. Dressed in an Albert coat, I stepped on the very same stage on which I had fallen nearly twelve months before, but instead of the wild burst of applause that usually greeted me, there was nothing but a strange stillness, which seemed to chill me to my very half-healed bones. Then it seemed as if the platform was commencing to sink down into the earth, and the sea of faces began to disappear as if enveloped by some haze.
'In another second the band truck the first note of the Russian Thanksgiving Hymn, and 14,000 people dropped on their knees, crossed themselves, and thanked the Almighty for my recovery. The memory of that silent demonstration is as strong now as it was then, for I cannot even write these facts without feeling overcome. I was more broken up by that that I was by the accident, and I was forced to give up performing for that day.

Paul Cinquevalli

Paul Cinquevalli

(photo: The London Stereoscopic & Photographic Co Ltd, London, circa 1889)

'My accident is now a quarter of a century old, and during the time I have been a juggler I have visited many countries, succeeded in accomplishing many seemingly impossible tricks, and learning all languages except my own. I am a Pole by birth, and was born in Berlin, but I cannot speak Polish. It is a forbidden tongue, and even in Poland you are touched on the shoulder by a police officer if you are found speaking Polish, and arrested if found a second time.
'You have asked me what I consider my most difficult feat? Well, I think the balancing of the billiard balls on the end of the cue standing on another ball on a wine-glass which I hold in my mouth. Times out of number in all parts of the world have I been called upon to decide bets made that the balls are flattened, or that wax is used to make them stand. If they were not perfectly true I could not do the trick. They are ordinary ivory billiard balls, and it took me eight years before I perfected the trick. I practised daily for eighteen months, only to find that I could not maintain the top balls in position save for a few seconds. I was very nearly giving it up, but when I was in Chicago I found I could not do it at all. This put me on my mettle, and I discovered the reason was because there was heavy machinery working in the basement of the house I was practising in. I went to San Francisco, and there I began again and accomplished the trick.
'Another trick, my game of billiards, cost many days, months, and even years of practising. The jacket I wear is made of real billiard cloth, and the pockets are a little smaller than those round a billiard table. I have five pockets, the sixth by my right or left ear. After my attendant has fixed my pockets on my shoulders, hips, and back, I proceed to play my game. When the balls are moving over my back I am guided only by the sense of touch.
'Of course, the most dangerous trick is with the 44lb. or 33lb. cannon ball. When the ball is pitched to me by my attendant, and I catch it on the edge of a dinner plate, the audience think that the danger comes from the ball, but it does not: the danger likes in the plate. It may have flaws in it, and may fly, as it has done on lots of occasions, cutting my hands.
'My imitators say the ball is wood. Well, I don't think H.R.H. The Prince of Wales was quite convinced when he saw me perform at Covent Garden, for he commanded me to go to his box, where he questioned me. In order to convince him I sent for the ball, and after he had himself balanced it on his hand I went through the trick of picking it up with my heels and catching it on the back of my hand. His Royal Highness was surprised that I had such strength, considering my physique.
'Once his Royal Highness was so delighted with my performance that he commanded me to appear before him at Marlborough House in the afternoon, and at the New Club in the evening – twice on one day, which I think is rather unique for a performer.
'Some of my tricks have been suggested under most curious circumstances. After a supper given by a wealthy gentleman in St. Petersburg my host asked me to "do" something for the company's entertainment, but I protested I had no apparatus, whereupon my host replied, "You seem to juggle with anything, so these will do," and he handed me a knife and fork and a potato. I took them in my hands and just pitched them about, when suddenly a new trick suggested itself, and I went on practising until I forgot all about my host. I threw the articles higher and higher, and then, slicing the potato, I caught each half on the point of the knife and fork. I succeeded the first time in doing the trick, but when I practised it seriously I began to realise how difficult it was, owing to the fact that all potatoes are not alike; but I overcame that in time, and I am proud of that trick.
'Again, one summer I was up at Marlow picnicking with some friends, when we left the launch and on the bank we spread the cloth. As usual, I began juggling with everything placed on it – sardine boxes, glasses, salt-box, serviettes. Then I picked up an umbrella, and next a bottle half full of lemonade. After playing with these I threw up the bottle, opened the umbrella whilst it was descending, and caught the bottle on the ferrule whilst it poured out its contents. I called this my rainy day trick.
'Once I dropped a half-crown, and it fell on my felt slipper. I thought that to stoop and pick it up was too much trouble, so I just jerked my foot, and, to my surprise, I found my half-crown doming up toward my eye, so down I bent my hand, and the coin was fixed just like an eyeglass. Then I thought of my slipper, so jerked that up and caught it on my head. I practised, and then added these to my tricks.
'I have hardly a trick that has not its own story. I remember when working at Koster and Biall's famous theatre in New York I had to pass every the shop of a cooper. One morning, after greeting me as usual, he said, "Say, Cinquevalli, I saw yer last night; guess it was marvellous, right marvellous, but I don't think you could juggles with those, could yer?" pointing to some casks weighing eighteen to twenty pounds each. I said I'd try, and picking up a couple I immediately thought of a good trick. The cooper was wealthy, and he made me three casks specially, and I use them now.
'Another trick – that in which I lift table, chair, and man, and balance them on my chin – was suggested by a wager made in a café in Paris.
'A French gentleman made a bet of 500fr. that I could not life him in a chair above my head. I accepted the challenge and I requisitioned the trembling waiter to practice with. After a short interval I found I could do it, so I returned to the café and proceeded to use the gentleman. I sat him in the chair, lifted him up, but I cold not hold him long, because he was in such a hurry to reach terra firma.
'The riskiest trick I do is that where I transfer the cannon ball from one piece of gas tubing to another, one piece being on my chin and the other on my forehead. You see, if the ball fell I should not have much time to get out of the way – and it has fallen but then I feel it falling, and it usually falls somewhere about my neck.
'I think I must have worried some of my friends a great deal at times, for I remember that my "cup of tea trick" was suggested to me at a lady's house during tea time. I picked up the cup, then the saucer, then a piece of sugar, and finally her most prized tea-pot, half full of tea, with a lovely carpet at my feet. They all went up into the air, and whilst they held their breath the cup came into the saucer, then the sugar followed, and finally the pot was pouring out the tea s if it had never been juggled with it its life.
'I am married. Mr. Cinquevalli was a famous horsewoman – Mdlle. Adeline Price. We have one dear little girl. When I retire I shall pitch my tent in England after wandering all over the world. I've hundreds of more tricks I'm getting ready, I am now learning to play the mandoline [sic] and the piano at the same time, but not for business, just to pass the time.
(The Weekly Dispatch, London, Sunday, 13 May 1900, p.11c-e)

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© John Culme, 2004