Ah, the good old days, when one could round up some oil of vitriol, powdered glass, orpiment, mercury, saltpeter, fulminating silver, and sulphur out of the cupboards and have a grand old time! The book Endless Amusement: A Collection of Nearly 400 Entertaining Experiments is online in its entirety through Project Gutenburg. The table of contents has linked page numbers, so I zipped down to the section on detonating various things.
Procure some glass globes, between the size of a pea and a small marble, in which there must be a small hole; put into it half a grain of fulminating silver. Paste a piece of paper carefully over the ball to prevent the silver from escaping. When you wish to explode one put it on the ground, and tread hard upon it, and it will go off with a loud noise. These balls may be made productive of much amusement in company, by placing a chair lightly on them; for whoever sits down upon them will cause them to explode. These globes may be procured at the barometer-makers.
The company may be much amused, but the person having to clean up broken glass or pick it out of their skin and hair will most likely not see much mirth in the situation. I skipped over to the section on amusing experiments in electricity.
The Unconscious Incendiary.
Let a person stand upon a stool made of baked wood, or upon a cake of wax, and hold a chain which communicates with the branch. On turning the wheel he will become electrified; his whole body forming part of the prime conductor; and he will emit sparks whenever he is touched by a person standing on the floor.
If the electrified person put his finger, or a rod of iron, into a dish containing warm spirits of wine, it will be immediately in a blaze; and if there be a wick or thread in the spirit, that communicates with a train of gunpowder, he may be made to blow up a magazine, or set a city on fire, with a piece of cold iron, and at the same time be ignorant of the mischief he is doing.
Any volunteers? Not all the experiments are so ghastly. Making invisible ink couldn’t possibly cause injury.
Put litharge of lead into very strong vinegar, and let it stand twenty-four hours. Strain it off, and let it remain till quite settled; then put the liquor in a bottle.
You next dissolve orpiment in quick lime water, by setting the water in the sun for two or three days, turning it five or six times a-day. Keep the bottle containing this liquor well corked, as the vapour is highly pernicious if received into the mouth.
Write what you wish with a pen dipped in the first liquor; and, to make it visible, expose it to the vapour of the second liquor. If you wish them to disappear again, draw a sponge or pencil, dipped in aqua fortis, or spirit of nitre, over the paper; and if you wish them to re-appear, let the paper be quite dry, and then pass the solution of orpiment over it.
Count me in -I’ll just run down to the pharmacy and ask for some aqua fortis and litharge of lead. There are plenty more dangerous experiments among the math puzzles and party tricks in this book from an unknown author and an unknown date, although the seventh edition was published in 1847. -via Metafilter