Magic abound on Feb. 11-15, 2001 in New York City.
Fairs have their roots in commerce. In ancient times they were a means for buyers and sellers to come together at one location to transact business. They are traditionally social occasions as well and generally sport a festive atmosphere. At the annual Toy Fair in New York’s Javits Convention Center one should not mistake the facades of fun, education, fantasy, glad handing and childlike whimsy that bulwark the displays for anything other than what they are. This is business.
Legerdemain and its allied arts have frequently been harnessed and exploited by toy men. Hamley and Cremer are two toy men whose names are linked to the early development of conjuring commerce in Great Britain. A.C. Gilbert is a noteworthy example of a magician turned toy man here in the U.S. Some of us immersed in escamotage may find it hard to believe that there are people who think of our love as no more than a toy. Yet there is something unique to conjuring as a play activity which at times is exploited and at other times ignored but is always inherent. Possession of a hat, holster and toy gun do not make one a cowboy. Candy pills and a miniature stethoscope do not make one a physician. Ownership of a plastic ray gun doesn’t make you an astronaut. A magic set, trick or book can make you a magician. Not a real magician, not even a polished performer, but still a person capable of amazing and astounding others. This is the lode that toy men hope to mine when they offer magic sets to the public. Magicians don’t take civil service tests or licensing exams. Anyone can pretend to be one and that is just one short step from actualization. It’s another story whether or not you’ll be any good.
Throughout the miles of displays at Toy Fair there is a dichotomy in the way in which magic is perceived and utilized. For some it is simply, “slum” as the old time pitchmen called it. For others it’s primarily a packaging affectation or ploy. For a very few, the tie that binds them to legerdemain is of a slightly thicker strand. At this years Toy Fair there were about a half dozen traditional purveyors of “toy” magic.
Marvin’s Magic had an up to date booth well staffed by demonstrators. Barry Curtis, Marvin’s U.S. Demonstration Manager, who has a theatrical background, told MagicTimes that he became a magician initially by learning to demonstrate at the Marvin’s display at F.A.O Schwartz in New York. Acting and salesmanship skills are of inestimable value in point of sale magical merchandising Barry points out. It is interesting to note that even in these days of alternative marketing methods, demonstration is still a prime mover in the sale of thaumaturlogical goods. Men like Jack Chanin and Al Cohen built their business’s on their stellar ability to demo.
Just an aisle away from Marvin’s was a rival outfit with just a small table appended to a display of fairly generic toys. Two men in maroon jackets were pitching a “Magic Club of Great Britain” line in a thinly disguised knock off of Marvin’s packaging and “Magic Circle” range. Particularly curious is that the Magic Club of Great Britain products are French! Hmmm.
Cadaco had a large booth featuring Marshall Brodien’s “Amazing Magic” and the theme, “Discover the Magic.” Cadaco’s magic items are mostly public domain standbys dating back to Prof. Hoffman and now made of plastic rather than boxwood. Burling Hulls “Svengali Deck,” repackaged as “T.V. Magic Cards,” is the initial product upon which Mr. Brodien’s subsequent success has been built.
On the day when MagicTimes visited, the booth was staffed by New York magician and producer of Monday Night Magic, Michael Chaut. “They’re long days, but fun days,” commented Michael. “What makes this gig very different from working other trade shows is, at this booth, the product message is magic!”
The allied arts, as they are sometimes called, those performing novelties often offered as adjuncts to magic were represented at several booths. Sunny and Co. had puppets and plush vent figures. Juggle Bug had instructional videos, props and jugglers juggling.. Aarons Balloon Modeling promoted that rubbery specialty.
Books, those “old fashioned” standbys, but still a pretty good way to exercise your brain and learn some magic were represented by Klutz with their perennially popular Klutz Book of Magic and Magnetic Magic publications. Sterling Publishing offered Card Tricks Galore and Easy Magic Tricks, both authored by Bob Longe.
A large part of Forum Novelties joke shop supplies display was dominated by their “Magic from Forum” line consisting of videotapes, boxed effects and magic sets. Franco-American Novelty Co., at one time a power in magic distribution although primarily dealing in costumes and gags today still maintains a magic line. Eddy’s of Hong Kong has the license to manufacture Tenyo’s discontinued items, Disney themed magic as well as producing many other pieces.
The venerable S.S. Adams Co. (since 1906) manufacturers of Practical Jokes and Magic Tricks was represented by Chris Adams “We were originally called The Cachoo Sneezing Powder Co.,” Chris explained,” after the product that launched us in business and incidentally was the only thing we sold. When revenues decreased because of undercutting by competition, our founder invented other products to diversify the line and changed the name so we wouldn’t be identified as a single product company.”
On hand at the Adams booth was demonstrator Fred Collins, second generation proprietor of Mecca Magic in New Jersey. “Every toy shop should carry magic. It teaches showmanship and communication skills. It’s a touch and feel experience that also gives them an opportunity to interact with other people. Kids need the benefits magic offers, more than spending additional time glued to a TV screen or computer monitor,” said Collins.
In addition to these more traditional purveyors of magic wares, there were about two dozen booths hawking licensed Harry Potter themed, costumes, toys, games and accessories. Harry Potter is this season’s “hot” marketing theme/motif. Many manufacturers had obviously spent goodly sums to ride the official bandwagon of what they perceive as a viable pop fad.
Add to the previously mentioned traditional magic purveyors and these two dozen Potter themed displays about half a hundred other booths mounted by entrepreneurs attempting to capitalize on the anticipated Potter juggernaut. These other displays featured generic invocations of sorcerers, spells and witchcraft. In short, at this years Toy Fair there were wizards, wizards everywhere. It seemed as if quite a few of the business people participating in the Toy Fair were looking to necromancy to make revenue, “appear,” as if by magic. Shades of The Misers Dream!
—Richard Steven Cohn
Richard Steven Cohn has written for Genii, Magicol, M.U.M., The Yankee Collector, MAGIC, as well as magic themed articles for Brooklyn Bridge Magazine and Stagebill. He is a magical consultant for television and theater and performs both as a single and with his wife Alexandra.