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Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: December 31st, 2014, 5:43 pm
by MagiCanuck
Can anyone enlighten me as to the origins of the "Fortune Teller Miracle Fish"?

This very silly but insanely fun and inexpensive giveaway has been around seemingly forever.

Just picked some up for handouts in 2015; the little plastic sleeve they come in is the perfect size to also hold a business card.

All the references I can find online only tell me how they work but nobody seems to know their creator or anything about their history.

Nothing urgent but it's a question I've wondered about for ages.

A very Happy New Years to all!

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: December 31st, 2014, 6:11 pm
by Bibliophage
I have dated materials related to the sale and advertising of such objects dating back to the early 1800's

These "moving" hand-held items have been around for some time, but were not always in this fishy form.

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: December 31st, 2014, 8:36 pm
by Bill Mullins
Bibliophage wrote:I have dated materials related to the sale and advertising of such objects dating back to the early 1800's.


The last couple of issues of Gibecière have had articles by Max Maven on the origins of Clippo and Needle through Balloon. It turns out the history of slum magic can be fascinating -- I hope you will share what you've learned about fortune telling fish.

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: January 1st, 2015, 2:27 pm
by MagiCanuck
I too would love to read more about specific historical examples of earlier incarnations of this amusing novelty.

Please share!

What online references exist discuss the chemical composition of the fish material - sodium polyacrylate - which reacts to any water molecules it touches and thus changes the fish material's shape when you place it on your (sweaty) palm. So it's not about the heat from your hand as many of us had surmised over the years.

All of which begs the question - were the much earlier historical versions alluded to also made up of a sodium polyacrylate base?

Could there be a more important question with which to begin the New Year? :D

Bibliophage wrote:I have dated materials related to the sale and advertising of such objects dating back to the early 1800's

These "moving" hand-held items have been around for some time, but were not always in this fishy form.

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: January 1st, 2015, 3:00 pm
by Bibliophage
Both the printed references and the actual physical examples from the period are more paper-like than plastic, but the behavior was and is the same.

If you have experimented with similar materials, it is not difficult to identify several pre-plastic, non-paper substances that animate when held in the palm.

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: January 1st, 2015, 7:34 pm
by MagiCanuck
Bibliophage,

OK, so now you've really got me curious!

If earlier incarnations were not made out of plastic or paper, from what were they made?

I must admit I've never tried experimenting with any material.

In fact, although I've known about these novelties for decades I've never even given them a single thought until now!

However, they were an exceptionally good value at a gross (144) for approximately eight cents each. The reactions they get can be worth a hundred times that amount! And so I guess that is what lead me to wondering about where they originated, etc.

Some additional specific questions:

* Who can be credited as the inventor of the principle? What company first marketed them?

* Were earliest versions shaped like fish? If not fish, what shapes?

* Were earliest versions stand alone novelties or used in advertising? If advertising, what product or services were they used to promote?

* When was the first recorded use by a magician?

* When did the brand "Fortune Teller Miracle Fish" first emerge? Any record of who came up with the fish shape and the idea of the different "fortunes" applied to the various contortions of the fish?

Any and all responses appreciated.

And yes, I already know: Clearly I have way too much free time on my hands this New Year's Day! :D

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: January 1st, 2015, 9:30 pm
by Bibliophage
"from what were they made?"

- Sorry for my confusing wording - they are made of a thin, paper-like material, similar to the paper known as "onion-skin."

"Some additional specific questions:"

"* Who can be credited as the inventor of the principle? What company first marketed them?"

-I have names for three different "Inventors" from the US, UK and China. I bet I find one from Italy eventually.

"* Were earliest versions shaped like fish? If not fish, what shapes?"

-Shapes and figures including mermaids, soldiers, leaves. Many different shapes. If you search online you will find modern versions shaped like Santa, Fred Flinstone, his daughter Pebbles, Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear.

"* Were earliest versions stand alone novelties or used in advertising? If advertising, what product or services were they used to promote?"

-They were novelties or amusements which were sold as such. Often packaged with a large one for men and a smaller one for the ladies.


"* When did the brand "Fortune Teller Miracle Fish" first emerge? Any record of who came up with the fish shape and the idea of the different "fortunes" applied to the various contortions of the fish?"

-The early non-fish versions were also used to "determine" the character, affect, mood or fortune of the user.

- I have found "Fish" versions like the current model in US catalogs like this listing from Johnson Smith's catalog #123 from 1926. Here is the listing:

Fortune Telling Fish

The Fortune Telling Fish Is
said to give a truthful account
of everybody's character
and disposition. It will tell you
whether you are brave or diligent,
modest, jealous, short tempered, whether
you are in love, fickle, and so on.
It tells you just what you should
know about yourself, so that you can
take steps to remedy your failings.
Astonish your friends by telling them
things about themselves, besides giving
you any amount of fun and entertainment.
Full instructions with each.

No. 3613. Fortune Telling; Fish....10c
3 for 25 cents, or 75 cents per dozenl
instruction


As to their "use" by magicians, they have been sales and pitch items at least since the early 1800's, with specific mention by magicians as in the 1936 book Money From Magic by Herman Weber. In addition, performers including Daryl and David Williamson have published or sold tricks incorporating the fish, with Sid Lorraine as the earliest I've found with an ad in a magic magazine. Mr Lorraine offered The Psychic Phish for $6.00.

For some entertaining homework, look-up trick number 28 in Karl Fulves' Self-Working Paper Magic for ideas from Fulves and Jerry Andrus which make magical use of that stuff from which fish are made.

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: January 1st, 2015, 11:47 pm
by MagiCanuck
Bibliophage,

Thank you very much for your prompt and informative reply. Appreciated.

At least some of their history is now a bit less shrouded in mystery!

---

Does anyone have any good stories about using them as giveaways or tales of unusual reactions from spectators?

So far I get a mix of reactions but mostly very surprised/excited with lots of laughs when it starts twisting and turning in their own hand!

If questioned, I "prove" to them it is not twisting as a result of the heat from their hand (a common "explanation") by putting it on the back of their flattened hand where it lies flat and lifeless. So it must be "absorbing" their "future" from their palm and writhing with the knowledge! ;)

So they're ideal for this time of year especially - I'm using them to help spectators "predict" their new year ahead. All in good fun, of course.

The fact that the packaging is "old" looking works to my advantage too. I treat them as if recently rediscovered tools of some weird late 19th century or early 20th century form of fortune telling. No one has yet questioned it.

And since spectators get to keep them they are extra popular!

Who knew such an inexpensive, "silly" novelty could still be this much fun after all these many, many, many years!

I wonder what other inexpensive, seemingly arcane novelties would also be considered to be in the same category today?

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: January 2nd, 2015, 2:01 am
by Brad Jeffers
The Mermaid Inn in New York City is known for it's free chocolate pudding served with a complimentary Fortune Teller Miracle Fish.

A nice touch for any seafood restaurant.

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: January 3rd, 2015, 4:07 pm
by DonB
At a garage sale a few years back, I came across the same item, but it was black, and it was Charlie Chaplin! I bought it for $3.00, but for the life of me cannot locate it anymore.

I would love to know how to get specialty ones made in various shapes, without having to buy 1,000,000 of them. They DO make great giveaways.

DonB!
Mora, MN

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: January 5th, 2015, 4:46 pm
by MagiCanuck
I always wondered, why a fish? Who came up with that originally and why? (And were they especially hungry at the time?) :)

Chaplin indeed would've been a good, recognizable shape in his day; possibly even today.

If someone was smart and could get the licensing issues resolved (if any), I think today the silhouette/shape of Houdini in a strait-jacket and shackled would be a fantastic idea. After all, he's still the most famous magician of all time.

When the Houdini shape wriggles around on your palm to tell your fortune he (or his spirit) would be attempting to escape from the mortal confines of your hand!

If there is already a Houdini fortune "fish" out there, apologies. I haven't looked.

What other shapes would work equally well or even better for magicians today?

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: January 5th, 2015, 6:44 pm
by I.M. Magician
I don't know much about them but I do know that the size has shrunk in recent years. They appear to be identical (red fish in a red and white printed envelope made from the same substance) to the ones that have been around for decades but apparently have been reduced in size to save money.

It seems that they do still make them in the same size as they have been for decades. The envelope they come in measures 4 1/2 inches by 3 inches. The fish itself is 3 1/2 inches long.

Believe it or not, Leonard Cohen included one in his Songs From The Road DVD & CD set!

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: March 8th, 2016, 4:08 pm
by Ryan Matney
Chad Wonder recently produced these new shapes. I think Balloon Doggies was a great idea! Not seen them mentioned in the thread so you might not have seen them yet.

http://trickballoondog.com/store/produc ... lloon-dog/

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: March 9th, 2016, 8:29 am
by MartinKaplan
Chad Wonder's dog project has been a disaster. The first batch proved to be defective and supporters in Europe did not receive any of the dogs in accordance with their level of support. Chad is still negotiating with his Chinese manufacturer for replacements, but seems to be getting nowhere. I would not count on these being a reliable or available substitute for the fish. By the way, their is a routine using the fish on the STEAM video.

-Marty

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: January 14th, 2019, 12:53 pm
by MeganBarbour
Bibliophage,

Thanks for the information you shared on this topic. I'm also trying to track down some further history on the fortune telling fish novelty. If you don't mind I have a couple of follow-up questions:

"Q:Who can be credited as the inventor of the principle? What company first marketed them?
A:I have names for three different "Inventors" from the US, UK and China. I bet I find one from Italy eventually."
Follow up question: Who are the three inventors names you have listed?

"Q: Were earliest versions stand alone novelties or used in advertising? If advertising, what product or services were they used to promote?"
A: They were novelties or amusements which were sold as such. Often packaged with a large one for men and a smaller one for the ladies."
Follow up question: Where did you see these different sizes for men and women advertised? Were they always called "miracle fish"?

"A: As to their "use" by magicians, they have been sales and pitch items at least since the early 1800's..."
Follow up question: I would love to see some of these early sales and pitch items - can you reference where you saw these?

Thank you VERY much!


Bibliophage wrote:"from what were they made?"

- Sorry for my confusing wording - they are made of a thin, paper-like material, similar to the paper known as "onion-skin."

"Some additional specific questions:"

"* Who can be credited as the inventor of the principle? What company first marketed them?"

-I have names for three different "Inventors" from the US, UK and China. I bet I find one from Italy eventually.

"* Were earliest versions shaped like fish? If not fish, what shapes?"

-Shapes and figures including mermaids, soldiers, leaves. Many different shapes. If you search online you will find modern versions shaped like Santa, Fred Flinstone, his daughter Pebbles, Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear.

"* Were earliest versions stand alone novelties or used in advertising? If advertising, what product or services were they used to promote?"

-They were novelties or amusements which were sold as such. Often packaged with a large one for men and a smaller one for the ladies.


"* When did the brand "Fortune Teller Miracle Fish" first emerge? Any record of who came up with the fish shape and the idea of the different "fortunes" applied to the various contortions of the fish?"

-The early non-fish versions were also used to "determine" the character, affect, mood or fortune of the user.

- I have found "Fish" versions like the current model in US catalogs like this listing from Johnson Smith's catalog #123 from 1926. Here is the listing:

Fortune Telling Fish

The Fortune Telling Fish Is
said to give a truthful account
of everybody's character
and disposition. It will tell you
whether you are brave or diligent,
modest, jealous, short tempered, whether
you are in love, fickle, and so on.
It tells you just what you should
know about yourself, so that you can
take steps to remedy your failings.
Astonish your friends by telling them
things about themselves, besides giving
you any amount of fun and entertainment.
Full instructions with each.

No. 3613. Fortune Telling; Fish....10c
3 for 25 cents, or 75 cents per dozenl
instruction


As to their "use" by magicians, they have been sales and pitch items at least since the early 1800's, with specific mention by magicians as in the 1936 book Money From Magic by Herman Weber. In addition, performers including Daryl and David Williamson have published or sold tricks incorporating the fish, with Sid Lorraine as the earliest I've found with an ad in a magic magazine. Mr Lorraine offered The Psychic Phish for $6.00.

For some entertaining homework, look-up trick number 28 in Karl Fulves' Self-Working Paper Magic for ideas from Fulves and Jerry Andrus which make magical use of that stuff from which fish are made.

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: January 14th, 2019, 10:41 pm
by TAR
ebay just had a Huckleberry Hound and a Yogi Bear version listed I never seen before ($10 + shipping), the ones I remember in the 70's had a waxed paper envelope but the fish looked the same. I agree it is a great give away

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: January 16th, 2019, 3:28 pm
by Pete McCabe
So can I just buy some cellophane and cut my own with a scissors? Or should I get something other than cellophane?

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: January 16th, 2019, 5:34 pm
by Brian Douglas
The Science Behind the Fish

The Fortune Teller Fish is made of the same chemical used in disposable diapers: sodium polyacrylate. This special salt will grab onto any water molecules that it touches, changing the shape of the molecule. As the molecules change shape, so does the shape of the fish. If you submerge the fish in water, it won't be able to bend when you place it on your hand. If you let the fortune teller fish dry out, it will be good as new.


More here.


Cellophane Magic Fish

The magic fish was invented before sodium polyacrylate was made. The original fish was made using cellophane, which is a thin sheet of transparent cellulose. You can use cellophane to make your own fortune telling fish. The only requirement is that you use real cellophane (sometimes called cello) and not colored plastic wrap or gift wrap. Amazon sells cellophane sheets or you can find them at arts and crafts stores.

Use scissors to cut a piece of cellophane into a fish shape (or whatever you like). A good size is about 3-inches in length.
Cut some fish one direction and some fish the other direction on the sheet. Why? Whether you use sodium polyacrylate or cellophane, a fish will one bend one way. The direction it bends depends on the orientation of the polymer.

https://sciencenotes.org/make-fortune-teller-fish/

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: September 14th, 2019, 3:01 pm
by Tom Smith
I was very lucky that I received one as the "free magic trick" when I ordered my Sun Magic Company Magic and Novelty Co. catalog from the back of Boys' Life Magazine when i was 14. I loved the thing. In my mid-thirties I was working as an elementary science teacher and Toyota was offering grants through The National Science Teacher's Association. A few colleagues and myself wrote for the grant that incorporated writing, storytelling, and hands-on science, all based on a Fortune Telling Fish. Incredibly, we won a $10,000 grant for our project. If I had never ponied up the quarter for the catalog and free trick twenty years earlier, this would never have happened.

Re: Fortune Teller Miracle Fish

Posted: September 14th, 2019, 4:55 pm
by Zig Zagger
Here‘s a source from the 1780s, and the trick was used in a magic performance.

It is described in Henri Decremps‘s Testament de Jerome Sharp (at least in the German translation from 1788 which I have before me). During her performance, an old gipsy woman puts a piece of paper with the drawing of an infant in a cloth into the hands of two women. The paper twists and wiggles in one woman’s hand only, which „proves“ that she has given birth to a child.

The secret lies in the organic material of one of the two pieces used. No chemicals here.