I’m sure everybody has seen a ship in a bottle at some point before. I’d bet that most people know how it’s done too.

But how about these Impossible Bottles by Harry Eng?

Harry Eng - Impossible Bottles

But. But. But...?

There may be spoilers ahead, so you might want to stop reading now…


Well, as far as I can make out, there’s no fakery involved when making impossible bottles. Everything that is in the bottle, has passed through the neck.

Take the three bottles above for instance. The bottle on the right looks impossible at first, but you could (if you had the time or patience), take all the cards out of the pack, unfold/roll up the empty box and put that in the bottle. Then using a pair of tweezers, reassemble the box, glue it back together if required, then put the cards back in one by one. It’d be a tough job, but it’d be doable I reckon.

How about the bottle on the left? It looks like the same kinda principle, but really pushing the limits as far as difficulty levels go. Put in the empty boxes, then the cards into each box. Thread the rope through. But if you look carefully, there’s a nut and bolt apparently going through all three decks of cards too. Maybe that’s an illusion? Perhaps the bolt doesn’t really go through all three decks?

What really intrigues me though, is the middle picture.

From the Puzzle Museum website:

Our venerable curator has gone nearly blind with a magnifying glass but has failed to find any sign of breaks or glue in this plank. It is a One Gallon Bottle and the plank measures about 14 cm x 12.5 cm x 1.8 cm thick. Even if one could use the key that is loose in the bottom of the bottle, the padlock on the bottom of the plank is too large to fit through the neck of the bottle.

So, dear reader, please put me out of my misery. How did Harry Eng do that?

Comments on: "Harry Eng’s Impossible Bottles – How did he do that?" (18)

  1. Hi, I just came across this article – nicely written!

    Harry Eng inspired me to start making and selling my own impossible bottles – you can see my work at http://www.impossiblebottle.co.uk.

    Unfortunately I never met Harry, but I can assure you that all of his bottles (and mine for that matter) are normal glass bottles, and are not tampered with at all. Everything in a true impossible bottle has to go through the bottle neck.

    It’s a lengthy and at times frustrating process!

    All the best,


    • Thanks for stopping by and saying hello. I did see your website shortly after I wrote this actually and even came [that] close to buying one of your excellent looking impossible bottles too!

      Not sure I’d have the patience to ever do what you do, but they’re impressive to look at.

      Oh, and if you happen to know how the Wooden block is done… I’m all ears! :-)

    • Where can I get just the bottles?

  2. I’m afraid I’m as mystified as you when it comes to some of Harry Eng’s bottles!

    That’s what I love about the whole art form – I make the things myself yet I’m still astonished at some of them!



  3. Harry eng was truly a great artist.My late father did bottles that would truly blow your mind.He has 25 of them in the Ripleys believe it or not in branson mo. His bottles are truly unique and one of a kind. They are mostly themes like the little brown church in the vale, tera, the mansion from gone with the wind, a farm , a military fort from the 1870s . Many of the bottles are in 5 gallion jugs,and truly unbelieveable. Email me and I will send you some pictures.

  4. I have been making Impossible Bottles for 10 years now. Harry was definitely the “master” at them, but, I am trying to follow in his footsteps and keep his art form alive. I have already duplicated 6 of Harry’s bottles and am in the process of creating a couple of bottles that have never been created by anyone. If you’d like to see some of my bottle creations please feel free to go to my website – http://bottlemagic.com.

    Always be your best,


  5. I know how Harry made all three. If you look at bottle #3 (far right), the deck of cards is and match box don’t look very good (deck not sealed and slightly still opened). What makes the bottle so interesting though, is that the bottle was made for two guys Harry had dinner with. And, more importantly, Harry put both items into the wine bottle with nothing more than a couple of rubber bands, a pencil and pair of chop sticks. Now, that’s impressive!

  6. Larry Stuart said:

    how did he put plank in bottle

  7. nicholas said:

    I have an idea for the middle bottle, but it is a bit crazy. He could of growen a tree in the bottle an cut around it. This probebly didnt happen but, you never know

  8. The curator not being able to see the seams doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It probably goes together like lego. The seams must run along the grain. How would you make a wooden plank like this? Take a piece of wood. Break it or cut it along the grain into 4-5 pieces. Drill holes for connecting pieces. (Imagine lego block bumps). Make sure the connecting pieces are very tight fit and accurate. Put it back together. Now do all the engraving and sanding which will make the seams invisible. Take it apart again. Assemble in the bottle.

    Th padlock was probably taken apart before inserted into the bottle.

  9. This is how the middle bottle was created….

    Whats interesting is that because something looks like wood they assume that it must be wood!

    The material isn’t wood at all, but a stretchy piece of rubber, etched and painted to look like wood! The rubber was squished down as small as it could go and placed inside the bottle.

    • The bottle contains actual WOOD. It is not a piece of rubber or any other material. He did not resort to that type of illusion. My father produced many bottles – using regular tools or improvised items. As for the “poorly” done items seen here – these are not the best examples of his work, but it is true that he would fashion a bottle for someone within 30-60 minutes using items at hand. Glad to see that his bottles continue to make people think. The reason he did them!

      • Never said or meant anything negative about his wine bottle with the cards and matches inside, Diana. I was simply amazed at what he did with the “tools” he had on hand. He is one amazing person. I only wish I could have met him. I really wish I could talk with you. I would LOVE to learn more and hear additional stories about your Dad.

  10. its a very well painted sponge or other material of that flexibility.

  11. There’s actually a very common way to get wood into “impossible” places: Soak it in water and compress it in a vise. You can get it down to a fraction of its original width, and it returns completely to normal within a few days.

  12. I have met Mr. Harry Eng on a flight from Amsterdam to Los Angeles in 1994. This was a 10hr flight. We were sitting aside one another. He did not stop fooling with my brain by doing mindgames, card illusions and all. The best was his ‘laptop’ computer. A square black cardboard device with fingerholes on the 4 sides. By deduction it would come up with the correct answer to a question. Amazing.

    Just before landing he invited me to visit him in La Mesa. He handed me his business card (I still have it today, THINK in gold together and an impossible designed frame a la Escher)
    I did visit. W H A T A N E X P E R I E N C E ! ! ! It was only then he showed his bottle art!! What an intriguing person. I still remember the long table in the room with a lamp above it. He designed it in a way it could be adapted to the lenght needed to be illuminated. GENIUS.

    I got a bottle as a present from him and still cherrish it today. The name is ‘A loaded deck’ and is a Snapple bottle with the screw cap, a knot on top and inside plus the rope going through a ‘bicycle’ playing cards deck with the aces on the outside of the box and a Winchester shell and the bullit through it.

    At 52 years and looking back to what I have done and whom I met, the encounter with this remarkable man is one of the highlights of my life so far.

    As I came back in Europe I called Harry Eng thank him for his hospitality. I got (one of?) his son on the line Harry was not well. Next time I called I was told Harry Eng had left this life.

    A fantastic encounter. Thank you for having spent some time with me.

  13. Very OLD trick. Try this people: Cut yourself a piece of 2×4 about 4″ long (along the grain). Boil it for 10 minutes, then let it soak in the hot water for another 20.

    Then, place the chunk of wood in a vice and slowly compress it down to 1/2 inch thick.

    Insert this chunk into a bottle. Add hot water, let soak for a day, drain and allow to dry 2-3 days. Presto, the wood will swell back up to normal 2×4 dimensions. You now have an “Impossible Bottle”.

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