About the Cups and Balls 

Last Updated:  Mar 2015

by Doug Atkinson

This article is intended to accompany the products list for the Cups & Balls effect. It is not a thorough discussion on the Cups & Balls, as there are many better qualified to discuss this than myself, such as those who actually perform them for a living, manufacture them, or who are avid collectors. I am merely a hobbyist who has done some reading and has a few inexpensive sets!

An additional, excellent resource on the cups and balls is Bill Palmer's Cups and Balls Museum: http://www.cupsandballsmuseum.com

The basic effect of the cups & balls is that three cups are shown. Small balls are found to penetrate the cups, transfer from cup to cup, and are never found under the cups that the spectator thinks they should be under. Many variations and sequences are possible, with most routines ending in large objects such as fruit or large balls being found under the cups in place of the small balls.

A set of cups and balls can range in price anywhere from a few dollars to over a thousand dollars. To perform the cups & balls, you don't have to buy a professional set. There are many routines that would be suitable with paper cups, coffee mugs, jars wrapped in paper, or a variety of other containers. The advantage of the "impromptu" styles is that they appear unprepared and are not suspect of having trap doors or other mechanincal gimmickry (which they don't usually have anyway). The key is in the performance.

Many performers, however, will decide they would like a set of cups made specifically for this effect. For one thing, a nice set of cups is simply a pleasure to work with and look at. Also, some moves are difficult or impossible without the properly shaped cups. The new Pete Biro cups offered by Steven's Magic, for example, are reported to allow a couple of unique slieghts to be performed that are difficult or impossible with other designs. James Riser's web page (link above) provides some good information on the features desirable in a good set of cups. 

Some factors included in cup design are a matter of taste. Size, shape, and materials can fall into this category. However, some factors will affect the usability of your cups. For example:

Size: Where are you performing? Close-up, street, stage? The size of the cups will depend on who needs to see it, and also will affect the size of the final loads you can use.

Stacking: Most routines will have the cups in an inverted stack during some part of the performance. Usually, one or more balls will be "nested" in the space between these inverted cups. The cups should be designed so that this space allows three balls to fit without causing the cups not to stack properly.

Shape: Cup shapes can vary from tall and narrow like a glass tumbler, or short and squatty like the top of a Thermos bottle, or somewhere in between. One design philosophy is to have the cup shaped such that the final load looks like it cannot possibly fit in the cup. If you are performing for a Medieval fair, you might want a cup shaped like an old drinking glass.

Material: Cups are generaly available in plastic, aluminum, copper, brass, or steel. Plastic is very inexpensive, but is usually light (though Rings 'N Things II has a couple of resin cups that might compare more favorably in weight to metal cups). Aluminum is a bit heavier, but most professional performers find them too light, and they can dent or bend more easily than the heavier metals. Copper, Brass or Steel are preferred for their heavier weight and durability. Some of these can tarnish and may need polishing, but the tarnished look is actually preferred by some performers.


Some good inexpensive starting places for the Cups & Balls include the Fun, Inc. book by Gabe Fajuri (only $3.50) and their 25 Amazing Tricks with Cups and Balls DVD hosted by Troy Hooser. Also good are the Tom Osborne and Merlyn Shute books, and the Steven's Magic Cups & Balls Teach In Video (the latter is a must have!). The Michael Ammar "Complete Cups and Balls" book and videos presents a fairly comprehensive instruction to the Cups and Balls. Dai Vernon's routine is considered a classic that many other routines have been modeled after. Finally, I glanced through Gazzo's routine, and it looks pretty thorough and is designed for the street performer.

Some representative cups in price order low to high
(Note: this list was created around 2006 - you can search on the Internet to see how the market has changed)

$5 tri-color plastic sets from SS Adams, Royal, and others. Not recommended, though they can certainly be used with success with the right routine.

$10 silver plastic sets from Loftus or Murphy's Magic Supplies. If you are extremely on a budget, these cups may be suitable, but for a few more dollars an aluminum set would probably be better.

$15-25 Aluminum Sets: Bazar de Magica, Morrissey Magic, Magic Inc, and Ickle Pickle offer Aluminum sets in the $15-$25 price range. A especially nice aluminum cup as seen on James Riser's pages is the Harries Magic Aluminum cup, at $42. 

$50 range. Bazar de Magica and Morrissey Magic offer their cups in Copper or Brass in the $35-45 price range. These cups will hold up better than Aluminum, and if you can afford it, I would recommend these over the sets above. A copper version of the Magic Inc. Laurie Ireland cup is also available from Bill Palmer for about $70. You can also get a set of mini-cups from Magic-Makers Inc. for about $50.

$100 range. Harries' Magic "Bosco" cup in Copper for $88, El Duco Golden Cups at $85, Magic Makers Inc. (Penguin Magic) cups $99, the Magic Inc. Ross Bertram cups at $125 (no longer available), and the Van Dokkum (Netherlands) Economy cups at $140.

Nearing $200, we have the James Riser Mini cups ($165), Pete Biro's Johnny Paul Cups ($180), Collector's Workshop cups ($190), the Johnson Products Cups at $200, and a few Rings 'N Things II cups around $200-220..

The cups don't top out here. In fact, quite a number of cups have been produced in the past few years in the $300 price range, including:

JESMagic Squatty Cups. $250
Pete Biro Galli Galli Cups. $255
Ring 'N Things II Paul Fox Mini $280
James Riser Traditional Cups. $285
Cellini Cups $295
Michael Kaminskas Limited Edition Cups. $300
Van Dokkum Standard Cups. $320.
JESMagic Squatty Cups. $325
Fohrman Cups: $330
Gazzo Street Cups by Gazzo & Knight. $350
Michael Lee Millennium Cups in Aluminum $350
Owen Magic Supreme Stainless Cups $365

And at the top of the price line we find:

Fohrman Cups: $495
Michael Lee Millennium Cups in Copper or Brass $500/$550
Van Dokkum Jumbo Cups. $640
Joe Porper Cups Brass $695
Van Dokkum Solid Silver Cups $725
Joe Porper Cups Stainless Steel $795
Joe Porper Cups Copper $895 

And at the very top are the exquisite:

Brett Sherwood Cups at $1095 and up!


Some photos from my small collection of inexpensive cups:

              Cups S.S. Adam's  Cups & Balls.
Small plastic set. Although these cups come with many begnner's magic sets, when used with advanced moves even these cups can be quite magical. Other companies such as Royal Magic make similar sets.
Price is typically well under $10
              Cups Morrissey Cups and Balls (Combo Set)
This is a nice set of aluminum cups and balls from Morrissey Magic of Canada. This set happens to be a Combo set, with one cup that is also a Chop Cup. These cups make good starter sets because of their low cost. The main problem with this set is there is almost no indentation at the top (bottom?) of the cup and the ball can more easily roll off during performance. These cups run about $40 in copper or $23 in aluminum.
              Makers Cups Magic Makers Inc. Brass Cups & Balls
This set of cups are "short and squatty". Although they retail for around $130, you can sometimes find tremendous discounts on e-Bay. The quality control isn't necessarily the best. The first set I ordered were bent, and I have read similar complaints on the Internet, but they are a decent cup for the money if purchased at the e-Bay price (and I should note that my set was replaced with no questions). They do not fit a Tennis Ball load (a Tennis Ball fits snugly in the cup, but won't fall out easily).
Magic Inc
              New cups Magic Inc. Laurie Ireland Cups
These cups were introduced recently by Magic Inc., and are very nice. Quality control appears to be very good, and the price is great at $70. They do not fit a Tennis Ball load (Tennis Ball fits snugly). Get them while they last! Also available in Aluminum at under $25, but I would recommend the brass if you can afford it.
Magic Inc
              Bertram Magic Inc. "Ross Bertram" Cups
These cups are heavy, and they do fit a Tennis Ball as a final load. Their main problem is that they can't nest properly with a 1-inch ball; that is, the "nesting" space between the cups is limited, and using a smaller ball looks a bit odd with these fairly large cups. These cups are no longer made.
Also, these cups are NOT the same as the original Ross Bertram cups.
3 Cups
              Compared Three Cups Compared
This is a side-by-side view of three of the above cups so you can visualize the differences. On the left is the Magic Makers Inc. cup; middle is the Magic Inc. Bertram Cup; right is the Magic Inc. Ireland Cup.

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