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Theora Design - A Story of Survival Leads to Joy for Generations of Children

A story of survival and resilience leads to joy for generations of children.

What do popsicles, motorized bicycles, and Anne Frank have to do with one another? They are all part of the path that led Ora and Theo Coster to the stage at the 2012 TAGIE Awards to be honored for Lifetime Achievement. Theirs is an inspiring story that spans continents, decades.…and the terror of wars.

Ora and Theo have been a formidable husband and wife team for 55 years. Since 1965, their company, Theora Design, founded in Tel Aviv, has created and licensed over 160 toy, game, craft and novelty concepts worldwide.

Some of their most notable creations include evergreen games like, “Guess Who?” (Hasbro), introduced in the 1970’s by Milton Bradley, and current favorites such as “Zingo!” (Think Fun).

Early Success Led to Bigger Opportunities

Under the original company name Matat, (in Hebrew means gift or present), Ora and Theo began creating novelties which were given away free to Israeli customers with other purchases.

(About Elsiestix video)

One of their first successes was the unmistakable design of “Icetix.” In the U.S., the Borden Dairy Company produced 12 billion of the unique popsicle/ice cream sticks, beginning in 1969. They called them “Elsiestix” in reference to “Elsie the Cow,” their iconic brand mascot.

Elsiestix were designed to be re-purposed as a collectible premium construction toy after the ice cream had been eaten. No doubt nearly every American child growing up in the 1970’s recalls the alluring desire to consume more and more Borden ice cream in order to gather more Elsiestix, so that they could build larger and more elaborate objects!

The success of Elsiestix enabled Theora to pursue a wide range of more sophisticated ideas for various games and toys in the 1970's, some of which are still on the market.

An Unlikely Path to Joy

To truly appreciate the significance of Theora Design’s accomplishments, one must first understand their journey.

Ora and Theo’s own childhoods were marred, and their very lives were threatened, by war that would ravage any sense of a normal childhood as we know it today.

Theo was born in 1928 in Amsterdam, near the North Sea. His family operated a printing business in Amsterdam.

Ora was born in 1931 in a Jewish Kibbutz on the Sea of Galilee.

A primary school classmate of Anne Frank, Theo walked to school with her often for several years before the Nazi’s came to Holland. When the Frank family went into hiding in Amsterdam, the Coster Family was hidden by a Christian family on a rural farm in The Netherlands. To avoid detection by the Gestapo, he was forced to change his given name, Maurice Simon, to Theo, a name he kept to this day. Theo survived, his friend, Anne, did not.

Later, five of his surviving classmates helped him to produce a film "Classmates of Anne Frank" and book he wrote called, “we all wore stars” published in the United States and Great Britain by Palgrave-Macmillan. The book was also published by ten publishers in Australia, Brazil, Czech Rep. France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Portugal and Slovakia. It chronicles that time through his own experiences, those of his friends, and their memories of Anne. Theora Design is executive producer of the documentary film.

While teenaged Ora served in the Israeli Army during the 1948 Independence War, studied Stage Design in the UK, and became an art teacher, Theo was graduating from college, serving in the The Netherlands’ military and then became a printing apprentice.

After running his family’s printing house in Amsterdam for three years, he took a motored bicycle journey over 3,000 miles to Turkey, from where he sailed to Israel and met Ora in 1955. They were married two years later.

Standing the Test of Time and Looking to the Future

Concepts licensed to manufacturers worldwide, many of which have become household names include Guess Who? (Hasbro), Play-On-Wordz (Hasbro), Number Rumba (Mattel), Magimixer (Orda), Zingo & Smart Mouth (Think Fun), Spearoscope (Spear's), Stackrobats (Ravensburger), Finger Ball (Ideal), Disney Bingo Link (Jumbo), GYRO MAZE - (Kenner).

Josh West, ThinkFun's Head of Product Design and Sourcing, says, "The Costers are such a fantastically creative family. They have a great talent for finding the fun in simple, approachable games and concepts. I always look forward to the opportunity to see what they've been working on."

Quips (Ravensburger), One Too Many (Waddington's), are two examples of games from the 1970's that became evergreen and lasted for over 40 years.

Current licensed games together with established Israeli inventors include:

By The Book (Brainwright), Fashion Show (Martinex), Gotcha(Sanja - Bizak), Maulwurf - Magic Garden (Ravensburger) and Spin-A-Roo (Think Fun).

In 1981 and 1993 respectively, Ora and Theo’s sons, Boaz and Gideon, joined the team, specializing in marketing and advanced technologies. Boaz’s wife Aliza Coster, (CPA) provides Theora with financial services.

Boaz is co-inventor of Elefun with Omri Rothschild

New ideas are always in development. Theora works occasionally on joint projects with top Israeli toy and game inventors and designers. They also encourage young and promising entrepreneurs to enter the market place.

Mentors to a New Generation of Israeli Inventors

This section is a tribute from Tal Schrieber...

"The Costers are an inspiration to the new generations of Israeli inventors and their door is always open to give advice and help. Every year, students from my Toy Invention Program in Shenkar College visit their home - each year they are hosting more than 20 students - the visit to the "Toy Museum" and meeting with the Costers is the highlight of the program and it fills the students with motivation and energizes them on their way to becoming toy inventors."

"We have a tradition in our study program called the "Theo & Ora" exercise, which means to transform a simple mechanism from the home environment into a game/toy."

"On a personal note, my first encounter with the concept of Toy Invention was thanks to my meeting with Ora Coster 25 years ago. Throughout the years, Ora served as a role model and a source of inspiration for my work as a toy inventor and I love her dearly. I'm very proud and happy that the latest game that has been released to the market I've developed with her. Ora has a unique sense of humor and throughout the years of our work together, we've have developed shared codes and I could tell what she was thinking by the jokes she was making" - Tal Schrieber

Joy for Generations of Children

Despite childhoods branded by the scars of war, Ora and Theo Coster have succeeded in leaving an indelible mark of joy on generations of children the world over through imaginative play.

Author: Michelle Spelman, Editor and Inventor Relations Liaison for Chicago Toy & Game Group. She is a game inventor, and co-founder of Flying Pig Games LLC, creators of award-winning Jukem Football card game. She is also founder of Cincinnati Game & Toy Industry Professionals group, and is the Cincinnati Children’s Toy Examiner. An independent marketing consultant providing contract services, executive coaching and strategic direction, she’s in her sweet spot when she is working with companies focused on women and family-oriented products and services.

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