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Invented by British magician P.T Selbit (Percy Tibbles) in 1920, this was the first known version of the illusion of sawing a woman in half. This was the illusion performed in at the Finsbury Park Empire theatre in London on 17 January 1921, in the first known public performance of the sawing illusion.[1]



Paul Daniels - PT Selbit sawing

Several volunteers are recruited from the audience. One or more of these people are invited to tie ropes around the assistant's wrists, ankles and neck. The assistant then steps into a wooden crate or box, which is similar in proportion to but slightly larger than a coffin. The ropes are threaded through holes in the box and the ends are given to volunteers, who are instructed to pull them tight and keep hold of them (the neck rope has an added knot to prevent the assistant being strangled). The assistant is thus secured in a standing spreadeagle position in the box. The box is then closed and lifted into a horizontal position on a set of trestles. The magician then slides glass plates through the crate (and apparently through his assistant). The magician then saws right through the centre of the box, dividing it into two. The sections are pulled slightly apart and the assistant's torso is visible. The impression is that the saw blade must have passed through the assistant's midriff. The assistant is then released from the box and is revealed to be unharmed.

Notable performances

The illusion is only rarely performed today. This is mainly due to the fact that the assistant is completely obscured by the box, making it less dramatic and puzzling than later versions. It is now usually only performed as an illustration of the early history of stage magic and illusion.

  • P.T. Selbit's original performances in London in January 1921 were special because the effect was new and shocking to audiences of the time. Such was the impact of Selbit's creation that for decades afterwards other magicians would continue trying to emulate and improve on what he had done, thus affecting the course of stage magic history.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 This performance was recreated in the final episode of the six-part BBC television documentary series Magic, originally broadcast in 2004. See Magic at the Internet Movie Database