The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception - H. Keith Melton, Robert Wallace (2009)


V. Surreptitious Removal of Objects

The previous pages have been giving details for doing several tricks in which the performer secretly adds something to what is known to be present, and without the spectator, or spectators, being aware of any addition. In the following pages will be details for tricks in which the performer’s secret actions are those of subtraction rather than addition. It would seem that all that need be done would be to reverse the rules for putting down and one would know the rules for picking up. Probably that would generally be true in normal events but it is not true in the performance of a trick. Trickery can be accomplished only when the normal is circumvented. The difficulties of performance are caused by the trickster having to do unusual acts while apparently, in his actions, he has in no way deviated from the normal. As has been pointed out, the success of a trick largely is due to the manner of the performer.

Secretly putting your watch in the pocket of someone else is, technically, only a little easier than it is secretly to take a watch from the pocket of another person. However, the first act has few mental hazards and in the second they are manifold. Partly this is due to admonitions from early childhood on the wrong in taking another’s property. Partly it is due to the realization of having in one’s possession the tangible evidence of the act. It not only is more blessed to give than to receive but it is far easier to be nonchalant about it.

The action of taking something secretly has four hazards. The first is getting the object without being observed. The second is stowing away the object without attracting attention. The third is to try to keep anyone from immediately noticing that something is missing. When, however, these three things have been accomplished successfully, the performer need have little fear of the fourth hazard—that of being searched and, because of the presence of the object, discovered.

Getting the object and secreting it are done simultaneously in most instances. Further, they are done under the one psychological cover. However, because with different objects varying techniques, and combinations of techniques, are required, as the objects vary in size, shape, and weight, the methods of taking and secreting have to be studied separately.

The first point in picking up an object secretly is to make the task as easy as possible. Therefore the performer should get as close as he can to the object. This not only means that less arm movement is required to reach the object, but it makes possible the use of the body as a screen. So as to make it natural to be near the object which is to be picked up, the performer should make a practice of standing close to whatever he is looking at or to the person to whom he is talking. Without trying in any way to give the effect with his eyes, he should act in the manner of a nearsighted person, i.e., as if he were more comfortable being up close.

Having arranged to be in a position easily to pick up the object, the next point is when to pick it up. Here again, as in every other trick, proper timing is of extreme importance. And by “time” is meant when the action should be done and not the speed of the action.

Proper timing includes consideration of preparatory actions. “Preparatory actions” are of two kinds. One is the meaningless action which will cause the spectator to ignore it when it is done with a purpose. For instance, the man who carries his hands in his coat pockets whenever he is not using them will attract no attention when he returns his hands to his pockets at the time he has an article in his hand he wishes to put in his pocket. Of course, it is understood that the article is one he can hold hidden in his closed hand so it will not be seen. The other preparatory action is that of making part of a movement openly in order to lessen the amount of movement which has to be done secretly. For example, a man wishes to take his wallet out of his own right inner coat pocket without being seen to do so. The preparatory action would be to grasp the lapels of his coat. The fingers would bend around and go inside the coat while the palms of the hands would be against the surface of the lapels just a little higher than the top of the pocket. It is apparent that in such a position the man would be instantly ready to hold the coat out with his right hand so that the pocket would be easy to get into. It also is obvious that the left hand would have very little distance to travel to reach the pocket. Holding the lapels in such a manner is a normal gesture and attracts no attention. And yet not only has several feet of movement for the left hand been accomplished openly but the right hand is in a position to make easier the secret operation when it needs to be done.

Moving up close to what is to be secretly picked up is a preparatory action. Standing so that the body is turned to facilitate and shorten the movement is another. In planning any trick, all thought on the possibility of preparatory actions is well spent. Not to consider and learn such actions handicaps the performer greatly and needlessly.

Before going into how to pick up an object secretly and stow it away, it is well to study the possibilities of where the object is to be secreted. Any man naturally would think first, and correctly, of his pockets. In the usual coat and trousers a man has nine pockets, and if he wears a vest, he has four additional pockets. Not all of the thirteen pockets can easily be used. The watch pocket and the two hip pockets in the trousers are all difficult to get into quickly and the motions of doing so are awkward. The upper vest pockets are also unsuitable for any but a very flat object. The side coat pockets, by a telltale bulge, will reveal the presence of any bulky object. And the action of putting anything in either the side coat pockets or the side pockets of the trousers make the elbows stick out behind the back of the body. Often the arm movement may be made, in putting the hand in either trouser or side coat pocket so that it is not noticeable, but there are many times when this movement is very noticeable.

The inside coat pocket may be used for many objects and quite undetectably. The outside breast pocket of the coat often is easy to use. Both of these pockets can be used without taking the elbows away from their normal position. Both can be held open so as to make it easier to drop something into them by stuffing a handkerchief down to the bottom of the pocket. The lower vest pockets are good for use with quite small objects, as they also can be reached with little movement.

First the use of the regular pockets will be considered. Later mention will be made of other ways to hide objects about the person.

In order to outline a routine which will give the basic pattern for taking something secretly, let us consider a suppositious situation. The locale is a factory. The desired object is metal and of the approximate size and weight of a cigarette lighter and is one of a number on a workbench. The trickster is a visitor being shown around the factory by a member of the staff.

First, if it is possible to do so, much more interest must be shown by the visitor in the way in which the factory operates than in what is being made—apparently his interest is in the machines rather than the product. This attitude permits all sorts of innocuous questions to be asked about shafting overhead, or the manner in which a machine is bolted to the floor or of gear ratio, or of overall length of machines, and similar questions. Such questions naturally make both guide and visitor look up at one moment, down or sideways at another. The more a person’s eyes can be directed in various directions the greater the ease in which things may be done without attracting attention.

Not all interest is to be shown in the tools of manufacture. Some interest also must be shown in the product, but only as it relates to the manufacture. For instance, a question such as “this part is made from a one-inch steel rod, isn’t it?” permits the part to be picked up, although interest is directed toward manufacture rather than product.

The supposition now is that after various steps in the progress of manufacture have been shown, the guide and the visitor have reached the bench upon which are several examples of the object of which one is to be taken away. The object is picked up with the left hand as some question of method (no interest should be shown in the object) is asked. The answer should be listened to with every indication of interest while, at the same time, the object is put back on the bench. Please note that it is put back on the bench, but the fingers still retain their grip.

The instant the answer is given—allowing no wait whatsoever—a question should be asked about the machine—“at that end”—“those gears above”—at the same time pointing with the right hand at the spot mentioned. As the guide’s eyes go in the direction indicated, the left hand picks up the object and puts it in a pocket.

The pocket used depends upon the exact situation. If no one is standing to the left of the performer and the guide is at his right, the trickster can use either his left trouser or outside left coat pocket. If he could be observed doing that, he may find that the right inside coat pocket may be reached with a less obvious movement.

If either the trouser or side coat pocket is used, it would be well to put the right hand in the corresponding pocket and leave both hands in the pockets momentarily. The reason is that when both hands are put into pockets, the action becomes one of resting the hands and does not attract attention. The hands must go into opposite pockets; that is, both trouser pockets are used, or both side coat pockets, but never one trouser pocket and one coat pocket. This fact is of importance whenever it becomes necessary to go into a pocket. Simultaneously using opposite pockets does not attract attention.

If the object is put into the inside coat pocket and the performer feels that the action has been unobserved, he need do nothing else. If he feels that there is the slightest chance that it was noticed, he brings out a pencil which had been clipped to the edge of the pocket. He uses the pencil to draw with, make a note, or merely as a pointer. Of course, he has to have been prepared for this situation by having had a pencil in his pocket prior to going to the factory. However, this is the sort of detail which never bothers the person capable of plowing ahead.

According to the above outline, it should have been possible for the trickster to have pocketed an object without anyone having observed the action. But this only could be true provided there were so many identical objects on the workbench that one less would not be noticeable. It would be quite apparent, were there but three such objects on the bench when the visitor came, that only two remained when the visitor left. That is, it would be apparent to a workman standing at his bench, though the guide would not have been apt to have counted the number twice. If it were possible to move the other objects into altered positions, and there were five, or more, to begin with, even the bench workman will not notice the absence of one. People seem unable to be aware of numbers above four, except when specifically required to count. On the other hand, because of the way, at times, in which objects are laid out, when one of the number is taken, the pattern is broken, and the absence of the object is noted. In the situation where there is an evenly spaced arrangement of objects removed, it is possible to remove one object and by varying the spacing of several of the remaining objects to alter the pattern so that it appears unbroken. This pattern rearrangement cannot be done instantaneously though usually it can be done very rapidly. For instance were the pattern


it would be very apparent were object X taken away. But if objects A and B were moved respectively to the right and left, the spacing again being even and regular, the absence of object X would not be noticeable.

Were the conditions such that the performer were alone with the guide and there were a pile or filled box of identical small objects, the task of securing one becomes easier. In such a situation there need be no consideration of an action being seen by another person, nor of there being a chance of anyone noticing a reduction in quantity of objects. Under these conditions the routine would be either of picking up the object while the attention of the guide were distracted or waiting until the guide had turned away to call attention to another part of the shop. In the latter case the performer should stand as close to the guide as possible and use his body as a shield between the guide and the object to be picked up. This necessitates first, standing close to the object so it may easily be reached, second, standing so that his body is between the object and the guide, and third, having one hand and arm completely free to touch the guide. While earlier it was noted that in the main it is inadvisable to touch another person, in some instances a partial exception may be made. The other person may be touched provided it is made to seem accidental. Standing and walking close to the guide makes it perfectly natural to seem to be awkward. The arm is extended and touches the guide ostensibly only to keep from bumping him. Such a gesture actually permits turning the guide’s body so that he is in no position to see the object picked up, and even if it is not possible to turn the guide’s body, the action of putting him off balance keeps him from thinking about what the performer is doing with the other hand.

In this situation, once the object is picked up, the performer puts his hand into his pocket—the one closest to the position of the hand at the moment, which would be the side pocket of the trousers or coat. If he is certain that the pocketing action has not been witnessed, the performer may withdraw his hand. Otherwise the moment he is free to do so, the other hand also should be put into a pocket.

Still another situation supposes that a variety of objects are laid out on a bench, shelf, or counter. In this supposition it would be natural for the performer to handle the objects. In such an instance it becomes possible to take one of the objects by a process of confusion. The confusion is brought about entirely through the sequence of the routine and the timing of the actions. This routine may be done with as few as four different objects, although it becomes easier when there are more, as will be seen by experimentation once the routine with four objects is memorized and practiced. For sake of clarity, we will call the objects A, B, C, and D. Object C is the one which the performer wishes to take. The steps in the routine will be numbered.

1.    Object A is picked up with the fingers of the left hand. It is held chest high so as better to see it. After a moment’s examination, it is taken by the fingers of the right hand, turned over (using the right hand), and again taken by the fingers of the left hand. The right hand is dropped back to its normal position.

2.    The right hand picks up object C and as the right hand is being raised the left hand replaces A. Object C is given a shorter examination than was given A.

3.    The left hand picks up B as the right hand moves down with C. Here is the crucial point. As the right hand moves to “replace” C, the object is moved in the fingers so that it may be held between the palm and the second, third, and little fingers. Held thus, the thumb and first finger are free.

4.    Object B seems to be of scant interest and is put down almost as soon as it is picked up. The length of the examination is set by the length of time it takes to pick up object D with the thumb and forefinger of the right hand. The instant D is grasped, the left hand replaces B. The left hand moves more rapidly in putting down B than the right hand moves in bringing D up for examination.

5.    As quickly as possible, but without a jerk or apparent display of speed, the left hand comes up to the right hand and takes hold of D. When the left hand has a firm hold of D, the right hand is dropped to the side. As soon as the right hand hangs motionless, the left hand replaces D.

6.    Both hands are put into their respective side pockets—either coat or trousers, whichever is more natural. Object C, of course, goes into the right pocket with the hand.

Even from this distance, the writer can hear the reader say, “But that’s sleight of hand?” And technically the reader is correct. But all the writer ever promised is that the reader never would be asked to do any manual act he did not do regularly. He often holds some of his change in the manner described when he puts a coin on a counter. The difference is only mental, for he has other coins in his hand. But he need have no worry in the trick for the complication of the “picking up—putting down” routine and its resultant confusion to a watcher will hide the action. Actually the routine is so confusing that the performer is apt to astonish himself, provided he has practiced until he can perform it unhesitatingly, when he finds the object in his pocket.

To review the basis for picking up an object without being seen to do so: 1. When no spectator is looking because of their own reasons or using a routine that directs attention elsewhere. 2. By using the body as a screen. 3. By using a routine which masks the action by confusion.

Beyond the usual pockets of an ordinary suit of clothes, there are two special pockets which can be of great use and have advantages which the usual pockets do not have. Both must be made larger than ordinary pockets, i.e., be of greater capacity. Both can be used with less arm movement than is required for the usual pockets. Being unusual, the existence of neither pocket is suspected.

First the construction of the pockets will be described and then the manner in which they are used.

One pocket is made to go inside the front of the trousers. The mouth of the pocket is about twelve inches wide. The pocket is as deep as the distance from the waistband of the trousers to the crotch. The bottom of the pocket is rounded concavely, i.e., it is deeper at the corners (which go into the legs of the trousers) than it is at the center. A hem one-half to three-quarters of an inch deep is made on both sides of the top. A tape long enough to go around the performer’s body and tie is run through the hem of one side. A wide corset steel is run through the hem on the other side and sewn in place. The reason for the steel is that it holds the pocket out straight and, being flexible, will curve to fit the body. The side with the steel is pinned (with safety pins) to the inside of the waistband of the trousers. An alternate and better method is to sew four buttons to the waistband of the trousers and make corresponding buttonholes at the top of the bag. In this case the buttonholes are put horizontally in the bag and above the steel. The tape is tied tightly around the body and thus holds the other side of the bag tightly against the body. This pocket can be used either when a coat is, or is not, worn but cannot be used when a vest is worn.


Dumping object into trouser pocket. Note how left hand holds waistband of trousers away from body.
Phil Franke

The other pocket is located under the left arm inside the coat. This pocket, too, has a wide mouth which is attached on both sides. However, in this pocket the mouth is vertical. The pocket is triangular-shaped like a piece of pie with the mouth of the pocket where the side crust of the pie would be. This pocket, too, may be buttoned in place or held by safety pins. The mouth of the pocket is attached to the coat on one side and to the vest or shirt on the other side. The point of the triangle also is attached to the coat.


Tossing object into pocket inside of coat. Note how left hand holds coat away from body so that mouth of pocket is open.
Phil Franke

It will be plain that if the trousers are pulled away from the body with the one pocket, or the coat pulled away from the body with the other, the pocket will be opened. As the one hand pulls on the trousers the other hand dumps the object to be hidden into it. The reason for the concave pattern of the bottom of the pocket is that the object dropped into the pocket will come to rest in the trouser leg, where there is more space for it.

It likewise will be plain that the other pocket will be held open when the coat is pulled away from the body with the left hand. This makes it merely a matter of tossing the object inside the coat for it to go into the pocket. While the term tossing is used, this is intended to mean only a small wrist motion which does not cause movement in either the arm or body.

So far, all the notes have been about secretly picking up a small article of three appreciable dimensions and having some weight. While some of the methods mentioned also are suitable for picking up a letter enclosed in an ordinary size envelope, and, on occasion, even a legal size envelope, there are better methods for picking up a flat piece of paper.

One of these methods may be used provided it is immaterial as to how the paper may be creased provided it is pocketed. The main difficulty in folding paper is that the action is noisy. Folding paper has a distinctive and carrying crackling sound.

A full letter-size paper must be either crumpled or folded to make it of a size to go into a pocket. Crumpling paper makes far more noise than folding it. However, crumpling is by far the fastest method of reducing its size. Provided there is enough noise when the action takes place, as in a factory, crumpling the paper may be indicated. Of course, once a paper has been crumpled, it never can be flattened so as to look as it did in its pristine state. Unless the paper is to be returned, this fact is of no importance.

Probably the easiest way to pick up a paper from a desk, or other flat surface, is by using a book. “Book” means anything having a number of pages and includes a magazine, writing pad, or newspaper. If it be a newspaper, it should be folded an extra time or two according to its size, for this not only makes it less difficult to handle but increases its stiffness.


Showing how dabs of wax on rigid surface will pick up paper.
Phil Franke

On the back of the book (or other paper object) are pressed a number of dabs of a special wax. It would seem to the writer that at this point in this paper it must be quite unnecessary to mention that the wax is affixed prior to the meeting and in solitude. The dabs of wax are put on the book in the pattern of the spots on a ten of diamonds in a deck of cards. This pattern will ensure picking up any size paper.

The book is placed on the paper to be appropriated and pressed down. The wax will adhere to the paper and the paper will be taken away with the book when it is picked up. All that need be done further is to remember to carry the book so that the side with the paper is either facing the floor or against the performer’s body. The special wax may be obtained from the same source which gave you this paper.

One word is added about folding paper secretly. It is quite impossible to give full details in writing, but if the reader will take a piece of paper as he reads the instructions below, he will find it not difficult to understand.

First, before giving the method, it must be noticed that in order to fold paper secretly, it must be done with one hand. Holding a paper in one hand out in the air makes it almost impossible to fold it. But not only is it not necessary to hold the paper away from the body, it should not be done that way, for the first objective is to hide the paper.

Now having the paper, perhaps in the left hand which picked it up from the desk, bring it against the side of the thigh. With the fingers of the hand it will be found possible to fold over the paper and it may be creased by pressing the paper against the thigh. Once that fold has been made, the same procedure is followed to make a third. With three folds the paper is but one-eighth its original size. It becomes one-sixteenth the original size with a fourth fold—a size surely small enough to pocket even though the original paper be extra large and the pocket unusually small. It was suggested that the reader experiment in trying out the above suggestions. He will find it much easier to do than he would imagine. The fact that the folding is done against the thigh has the added advantage that folding may be done in that manner with less noise than in any other. No attempt should be made to have even folds or tight creases, for neither has any importance. The sole object is to reduce the size of the paper so that it may easily be pocketed.


Showing successive stages of folding a large sheet of paper so as to make it small enough to hide in the hand. Illustrations show manner in which paper is folded by one hand pressing against the thigh.
Phil Franke

The action of folding the paper, according to circumstances, is hidden by the desk at which the performer is seated, or by his turning his body if he is standing.

Summarizing the methods for secretly picking up something, they depend upon hiding the action by direction of the spectator’s attention, a physical screen, judging the time when no attention will be paid, confusion brought about by a rehearsed routine purposely complicated, or by a mechanical aid such as a book prepared with an adhesive. These methods may be combined in various ways besides those suggested in the examples. For instance, the wax on the book might be used to pick up a flat, not very heavy, piece of metal. The routines suggested are subject to all sorts of modifications depending upon the nature of the object to be picked up. However, while the routines suggested will work, it is essential to try out any modifications in order to find out if a routine will work in the way in which it has been altered. If it does, it should be practiced. If it does not, other alterations should be tried until a workable method is found and then it should be practiced.

Because of the importance of what is said at the time of the actual picking up, as well as in getting ready to do so, it is of the utmost importance to think out beforehand a variety of things to say. Attempting to devise topics of conversation on the spur of the moment always is difficult and making such an attempt while the mind is focused on a tricky action is practically impossible. Enough subjects can be figured out ahead of time so that the performer will find he is at no loss for words no matter what situation arises. It is not necessary to figure out exact sentences and memorize them. It is only necessary to have considered a sufficient number of distracting topics so that the mind will not run dry of subjects about which to talk. Some people imagine they have the ability to talk their way out of any situation no matter how incriminating. Even if one has such rare ability, it is far better not to rely too heavily upon it. And those who are willing to plan and rehearse with care and thought should have little worry about how to get out of a bad situation for there will be no such predicament.