‘I make six figures every year selling tricks to magicians’
Magic makers often make new versions of old tricks. Large-scale feats such as David Copperfield’s “flying illusion” and “sawing a woman in half” were also patented, preventing others from performing the exact version of the tricks.
“The price is decided in a secret conversation between buyer and seller,” Mr Middleton said.
But tricks can go at all prices, highs and lows. “I saw an illusion show where one trick cost £12,000 and there was another which cost £13. The cheapest, a simple card trick, was the one everyone was talking about after the show,” he said.
“Every magician has a drawer full of tricks which they keep and never use… It can become addictive – I know people who spend £10,000-20,000 a year on tricks,” he said added.
Scott Penrose, former president of the Magic Circle, a society of magicians, said illusions can be traded second-hand, much like cars.
“Some magicians can only afford to have so many illusions at a time, so they switch them around like you would a car and they change their routine that way every two years. Others like David Copperfield don’t sell anything because he can afford to keep them for decades in a big warehouse,” Mr Penrose said.
“You never get what you pay for in the first place. There are accessories that come from America and you pay thousands just to transport them, and then there are border taxes to pay,” he added.
Mr Penrose said he bought illusions from John Gaughan, who is known to do tricks on Mr Copperfield. “I buy them for £10,000, take them apart and spend another £10,000 doing what I want with them,” he said.
The industry is very loosely controlled, but high-level magicians who want to succeed must uphold the moral code and be careful not to steal ideas. ‘I would be castigated for theft and it would damage my reputation,’ Mr Penrose added. “A lot of times there’s no paperwork to say you own something, but it’s understood.”
The Magic Circle is a private members club in London, which has different levels of membership. Only persons personally invited by the President can become members of the “inner circle”. The society, established in 1905, has a strict list of rules against the willful disclosure of magical secrets, among other things. Magicians who hope to advance to the higher ranks must pass exams.
Darryl Rose, another magician who also creates and sells tricks, said: “There’s a lot of money to be made if you have a successful trick to sell. I know people who have paid off their mortgage with just one trick. which they managed to sell widely.Mr Rose said his towers sold for an average of £50.
Steve Price, a magician, said several of the tricks he performed cost him over £1,000 to find or create. He valued his “assets” of magic tricks at tens of thousands of pounds.
His most expensive was a variation of a classic schoolyard trick. The performer places a card on a glass of water, overturns it and removes the card without the water flowing. Water pours at the right time. “I wanted to make it bigger and better than anything anyone had ever seen, so I made it a six-quart glass, weighing about 6 kg (13 lbs). I made the accessories and it worked, but I had to figure out where the water would end up and that was also expensive to invent,” he said.
Some tricks seem overpriced, given their apparent simplicity. “I once spent £80 learning how to fold a piece of paper. I wasn’t sure it was worth it at the time, but I’ve been using the trick for 10 years so it was clearly the case.