Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Novelty ads from 1900, 1902, and 1903: Winking eyes, X-ray electroscopes, performing skeletons, seebackroscopes, magic tricks, shocking machines, mind reading, and Goo Goo--The Winking Eye!

For historical context, we start with three comic book novelty ad pages of the '50s, '60s, and '70s.  First, from Honor House (Charlton, 1956):


Next, from Johnson Smith & Co. (Charlton, 1958):

Finally, from Fun Factory (Gold Key, 1979):


Well, I've discovered that young readers of the very early 1900s--in this case, boys--were encountering the same sorts of novelty, magic, gag, and electronic-gadget ad spots in magazines and newspapers--forty-some pieces of proof are posted below.  These were scanned by me from twelve issues (dated 1900, 1902, and 1903) of The American BoyAmerican Boy cover gallery.  In short, comic book ads, before they were comic book ads.

1.  Along with the X-ray Wonder Tube, an ancestor of X-ray specs and gogs.  From 1902:

2.  Can we assume that this next one evolved into the famous joy (palm) buzzer?  Who wouldn't laugh his or her head off after receiving "a shock never to be forgotten"?  

3.  Winks at every girl on the street, but only if you want it to.  (What to do when and if the thing starts winking on its own?)

4.  I just bought (for a buck or so) a fake mustache from our favorite local supermarket.  Same shape as the following1902 item, though less dapper:

5.  "(Scream!!)"  "What happened?  Are you all right?"  "His... his handkerchief...."

6.  Ageism is not a new thing!  (I'd say "ageism is old," but that joke's ancient...)

7.  This Performing Skeleton is "weird, unusual, yet pleasing."  WIll fill old and young with capital-W Wonder (or your dime back?):

8.  The Seebackroscope was the forerunner of 1) the Look-Back Scope, and 2) the See Behind Glasses.  Ages before texting, pedestrians had other causes to be walking into traffic unawares.  ("Hey, look at that fine-looking lady behind m...." he said, before the streetcar flattened him):

9.  I'm tired of my old Surprise Clown.  Oh, cool, here's a new one:

10.  Before "Only on TV," there was "Only by mail....":

11.  Not just electrical, but scientific.  Avoid waiting until the holidays.  (Ye Olde "Act now!" bit):

12.  "Make fun, make mystery, make money."  Far out:

13.  Do you want your friends to believe you are a Ventriloquist?  Do you want to see ladies grab their skirts and climb a chair?  Well, do you?

14.  "Hello?"  "Hi, I'm in the next room.  I'm coming over."  "Okey-doke.  See ya."

15.  "Needed on farm, sea or ranch."  Achromatic?  "Refracting light without dispersing it into its constituent colors" (

16.  McGinty is back, "with laughing eyes and tongue out."  Utters a merry song, then goes back into the cigar.  I'll pass.

17.  Learn to entertain--or else!!!  Then get the Whistling Top, an early annoy-the-adults toy.  (I forgot to separate these two "cuts"):

18.  I wonder what I look like in my hat?  Literally.  And what could be safer than glass over one's head?

19.  Um, how can I make money by dropping pennies in the machine?  Explain that.

20.  Always wanted one...

21.  "No one as yet has been able to explain what makes it act as it does, we are not able here to give you an idea of the strange actions of this mysterious article."  If that doesn't make you want to send for it, nothing will:

22.  Me want make all kinds Toys.  Ooo, this tell how.  Me buy:

23.  A flying machine!  Cool, because I'm sick of kites:

24.  I'm thinking the best exhibition site would not be in front of the local movie theater:

25.  Save nine dollars and ninety cents!

26.  I want to walk into Lowe's and ask for one of these.  ("What aisle has the Electric Flash-Light Lamps?")

27.  This looks like a collision waiting to happen.  Or worse:

28.  "Also, SEA SHELLS."  Do these folks know what they're selling?  I want a stick pin, tools, wire jewelry, and--oh, yeah--sea shells.

29.  Why is it "Electricity" in the first sentence, but "electricity" later on?  A precursor to Twitter English: Ad English of the early 1900s.

30.  "FREE?  NO!"  We're going to charge you.  So there.  Guaranteed to interest "every intelligent thinking person," this is "a perfect piece of mechanism":

31.  What does "real" mean in this context?

32.  Miniature Electric Light Watch Chain Charm?  That is hyper retro-geek.

33.  "Better than 'Loop the Loop'."  I'm trying to picture looping a pencil.  What does that involve, exactly?

34.  Novelties for "everybody" who wants, for example, an electric scarf pin.

35.  For talking and hearing, both.   "Strong sensitive transmitters."  Trade for your tin can model:

36.  Uhhhhh... what?

37.  Milton-Bradley?  Nope, Wisconsin Enterprise Co.

38.  Not a parlor-fireworks accessory--sorry.

39.  ???  Logically, wouldn't it make thin people look even thinner?  Maybe I'm overthinking this.

40.  A toilet-seat pinball card?  No, wait--horseshoe.  Sorry.

41.  In Twilight Zone diners everywhere...

42.  Shock people by surprising them.  Er, I mean, surprise people by shocking them.  "Can be manipulated to make a giant tremble or not to injure a child."  A "veritable Fun Factory."  Yeah, sounds like one.  This could get one tossed in the poke:

43.  You'd have to be a mind reader to figure out exactly what this "cut" is selling....

44.  Before computers had all the answers, electricity filled that role.  See simple instructions....

45.  Weary Willie was a character created by Tom Browne.  Cards guaranteed to "catch the girls."  ("Oooo--a stout, bearded cartoon hobo!")

The turn of the century ads don't stop here.  Coming up: body-building, making money at home, selling stuff for seeds, and more roots-of-comic-book-ads ads.


No comments:

Post a Comment