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Tin Toy

La Boule Mysterieuse Tin Toy, 1906. Potter and Potter Auctions

Legend has it that circus contortionist Leon LeRoche took his inspiration for “La Boule Mysterieuse” from a popular gambling game that set up outside the show’s tent in Romania. After gamblers placed bets on one of several numbers, the showman let a ball roll from the top of a foot-high spiral, shouting as the ball made its way to the winning number. LaRoche’s legendary act, which was celebrated by this 1906 tin litho toy, had him scaling a 12-foot high spiral while inside a metal ball that rolled slowly and mysteriously upwards.

Boule Mysterieuse

La Boule Mysterieuse Tin Toy, 1906. Potter and Potter Auctions

“If it had not been evident that the idea of the trick had come to him from seeing the spiral of the Turkish showman, one would positively have believed the whole thing to be a miracle,” according to LaRoche’s story in the 1928 book Star Turns. The trick was regarded as “an unfathomable mystery, a sudden stroke of genius. Everywhere the agents arranged performances of the Man of Wonder with his troupe.” LaRoche doubled the height of the spiral to 24 feet and by the time he began touring with Barnum and Bailey in 1896, the track was 30 feet tall.

“Pull the string on the toy and it duplicates his feat,” says the catalogue description for the antique toy, which was made in Paris by Fernand Martin. On February 2nd “La Boule Mysterieuse” will be on the auction block at Potter & Potter in Chicago. The pre-sale estimate is $800-$1,000 and the online sale already has bids.

Serendipitously, Tin Mania in the U.K. also has one of these rarities for sale and made the delightful video below to publicize it. The price is 1,119 GBP (1,889 US Dollars)

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