Apollo Robbins, Pickpocket Extraordinaire, Wants Your Attention

Apollo Robbins is a pickpocket of the highest order. He’s so masterful at his skill, he once stole an item off of magician Penn Jillette (while Jillette was dressed only in shorts and a sports shirt, and prepared for Robbins’ theft). He’s pretty darn good at what he does.

Lately, I’ve seen Robbins name pop up all over (due in no small part to the excellent NYT profile by Adam Green entitled A Pickpocket’s Tale).

A fun part of the article is how much Robbins is into the history of pickpocketing, and even the slang of the trade. There are different names for the various pockets adorning a potential victim or “mark,” and there are names for the various team-members of a pickpocket crew:

If a crew of pickpockets is like a football squad, then its star quarterback is the “cannon,” an honorific generally reserved for pickpockets skilled enough to ply their trade without the help of a team. This is also known as “working single o.” Robbins works single o.

After reading about his exploits, it’s hard to imagine someone as good as Robbins. Here’s a video clip of him in action:

In addition to his stage work and shows, Robbins is also serving as an adjunct professor at Yale, where he lectures as part of a new research/training facility funded by the Department of Defense. Lately, it seems Robbins has teamed up with scientists and academics, to explore the science of attention and misdirection.

One of the first things that Robbins ever explained to me was his observation that the eye will follow an object moving in an arc without looking back to its point of origin, but that when an object is moving in a straight line the eye tends to return to the point of origin, the viewer’s attention snapping back as if it were a rubber band.

Green’s article, A Pickpocket’s Tale), is a really great, fantastic read. Highly entertaining, and makes you involuntarily check all your pockets afterwards, just to be safe.

// I got a terrific book (also entitled “A Pickpocket’s Tale”) last year, chronicling the rather remarkable life of George Appo, a NY pickpocket from the 19th century. Always meant to do a review of this book (which was fantastic, incidentally) but never got a chance to mention it. Also highly recommended reading, if you’re into this sort of thing. More info here.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I really hate sleight of hand. Don’t know why, it just makes me angry. I think because it purports to be magic, but it’s really just distraction (as he points out) and quick hand actions.

    Juliet Reply

  2. Apollo Robbins is my hero. His slight of hand and pick pocketing astounds me. He is truly an amazing man.

    Eclipse Reply

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