MAGIC @ TOY FAIR 2002

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MagicTimes Spotlight News

Amidst the hundreds of vendors, four manufacturers of magic-related items stood out.

“Take a look at the new Sticky Sliders!”…”Pardon me sir, would you like to wake the wizard?”…”Oh, this one involves role playing.” These are just a few of the comments heard amidst the miles of aisles at the 2002 New York City Toy Fair.

Toys. Games. Dolls. Electronic. Old fashioned. A multi-billion dollar business. And, the commercialization of the art of magic is well represented. Though, admittedly, it was a small part of the gargantuan trade show.

From February 10-14 more than 10,000 people crowded the vast Jacob Javits Convention Center on the west side of Manhattan and the toy business showroom HQ — 200 Fifth Avenue. This toy fair was brilliantly and invitingly organized with purple fluorescent carpeting, spacious booths, and EZ access to food and public facilities. The dealers were all weary from wheeling and dealing price points, volume breaks and discussion of market share by the close at 2pm on Valentine’s Day.

Amidst the hundreds of vendors, four manufacturers of magic-related items stood out.

At the US Playing Card Co. booth Guinness World Champion distance card thrower Jim Carrol regaled crowds with his pasteboard wizardry. Carrol also appears in the company’s new CD-ROM “Cool Card Tricks” which retails for an amazingly low five dollars. The sales director Bill DeBone told MagicTimes that Carrol was a draw, but that card tricks on the whole were less visual than other presentations such as bikini clad models playfully sitting in a huge champagne glass. Yet, Carrol’s CD-Rom was viewed by up to 30 people at a time. If one stayed long enough, secrets were revealed — including the secret to what the company tags “the world’s greatest card trick” — The Invisible Deck.

Harmful as this wanton exposure of a magic secret may seem, only a real magic aficionado might stay long enough to see the performance and secret revelation. US Playing Cards rep DeBone told MagicTimes “selling playing cards, tarot decks is a given. Magic creates a desire that becomes a necessity.”

Over at the Cadaco booth, a goateed, personable demonstrator named Jim Reidy explained the ins and outs or wholesale and retail mass market magic. Reidy firstly explained, “Magic is best sold when demonstrated, but having a pro in the booth demonstrating is not always cost effective when your top market dollar for a magic item is $14.99.”  Cadaco is the exclusive licensee of Lance Burton magic products. Reidy explained “When Lance established himself as the number one magician on TV with his NBC specials, our former owner Marshall Brodien (now a consultant to the company) approached Lance, and now we are very happy to have a working agreement with Lance and his people.” Reidy further explained to MagicTimes, after making a small black witches cauldron float inches from a buyer’s nose “At one time David Copperfield was a very desirable license to obtain, and I think Marshall approached him — but David wanted to do things that were not practical for the price point market, things done in metal. It never got off the ground. Tough guy to deal with.”

The Cadaco line has several magic sets, and expressed that a solid seller was something that “did over 100,00 pieces a year — and we’ve had several of those” he beamed.

While not exactly “trick-magic” or illusions per se, the ingenious products of Techniart Inc. certainly inspire wonder…and big sales. Founded in 1986, by Garry Cardillo, the electronic-based products feature wizards and other mythological figures that speak when spoken to and answer questions, plus perform a complex series of animated movements.

“What we’re after is the truly interactive entertainment piece” a young woman named Kelly told MagicTimes as she instructed this writer to pass his hand over a crystal ball enclosing the classic wizard in conical cap and star studded robe. “Ask a question and he’ll answer you” she excitedly said, and then added, “Oh make sure it’s a yes or no question.” A typical Valentine’s Day question was proffered: Does my wife love me?  The wizard’s eyes lighted, his staff moved and the little bearded fellow replied, “Your luck is not in the stars today.” The crowd laughed at this writer’s misfortune and then the head of sales rushed to explain that heat-transfer based technology character’s were not always accurate — but were featured prominently at the Excaliber Hotel in Las Vegas, and will soon be seen at the word’s largest casino, Foxwoods in Connecticut. Soon Techniart will feature even more amazing animated figures with voiced based technologies — and promise foolers to stump even magicians.

If the S.S. Adams Novelty Co. is the stalwart of mass market magic then the Fantasma Magic product line is the maverick of the pack to watch.

Founded by toy impresario Roger Dreyer, Fantasma is working with the singular genius who revolutionized quality magic within mass market toy buyer’s budgets — Mark Setteducati. Setteducati has blazed his own original trail since his mind boggling successes with Magic Works, produced by the world’s largest toy company, Milton Bradley. Setteducati outdid his success with Magic Works with the best-selling interactive book “The Magic Show” co-authored with designer Anne Benkovitz.

Having now formed an alliance with former Disney licensee Dreyer, the Fantasma company has re-launched Setteducati’s 1988 hit, “Reflecto.”  The Fantasma showroom at 200 Fifth Avenue displays a massive version of the item the inventor fondly refers to as “his baby.”

The Fantasma line aims to, in Dreyer’s words, “offer the (toy) buyer a product that will bring sales for space on the retail wall or shelf, product quality that is innovative, very entertaining and easy to do.” Dreyer was formerly the CEO of the US division of the very successful Marvin’s Magic commonly seen at all FAO Schwartz stores.

The Fantasma line heralds the Top Hat Magic Show, “Money Travel Magic,” “Instant Travel Magic” and “Classic Travel Magic.” Perhaps their most creative product is — while not exactly “magician’s magic” — “Mr. Shifty” that was, Setteducati explains, “from the inspiration I got from Paul Gertner’s “Unshuffled.” Employing a dry erase marker, the toy elicits an amount of creativity unusual in the market — but typical to Setteducati’s spin. The Fantasma showroom also boasted the bafflements of Boston’s well known trade show magician, John Stetson.

Dreyer explained that his month-old company represents an investment that “better yield millions, or I’m in trouble” he joked.  His bet in the business is insured by the diversification of their 3-step approach: visionary toy products, Fantasma magic, and Fantasma Science products “that educate and entertain” the proud CEO explained.

But the big question of the entire toy fair was, “Where’ Harry?” Harry Potter, the billion dollar boy wizard was nowhere to be seen flying on a broom, or even making a Hogwart emblem wiggle. The world’s most famous wizard was not even represented by so much as a wand that, when uncapped, dispensed candy.

Apparently, given the billion-dollar industry that is singularly Harry Potter, the sales people at Techniart perhaps put it best, “When you have a lot on your plate, you just don’t license what you don’t need.” So far, the Mattel company, responsible for the license of the character, has not found a magician or toy manufacturer’s proposal worthy of the character. Harry’s absence was stronger than most of the others’ presence.

—Ben Robinson

Ben Robinson is a magician and writer who lives in New York City. He wrote “Twelve Have Died,” the definitive book on the Bullet Catch, and is a recipient of the Milbourne Christopher Foundation award for his notable contributions to magic. He is the co-founder of The Art Rock ‘N Roll Circus and produced STOMP at Lincoln Center. His latest book “Ben Robinson On Synchronicity” was published last year on CD. For more information visit: www.illusiongenius.com.

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