One of my favorite little books is called Hey Skinny! Great Advertisements from the Golden Age of Comic Books, which pretty much describes the contents exactly. It is a hodgepodge of cheesy ads from the mid 1940s to late 1950s for all manner of junk, and it’s eye-opening to see via these come-ons just how much has changed in merchandising. I thought I’d provide a sampling for your amusement, not edification.
First up is the “Lucky Grab Bag”, in which children would send in their precious cash in exchange for a bag of……….stuff. God only knows what stuff would come back, but I suspect it was whatever overstock items happened to be laying around the office……..ballpoint pens, sanitary napkins, swizzle sticks. I suspect an entire generation of kids learned the meaning of disappointment from the receipt of these parcels o’ crap.
Next up is the most amazing sun watch in the world. The fact it was the only sun watch in the world probably helped. Evidently it was a watch with a triangle sticking out of it (helpful for accidentally cutting yourself) which, if you aimed it precisely right on a sunny day, could give you the time within two hours of accuracy. This allowed you to tell time “the truly scientific way”. It wasn’t just a watch, though – – this product claimed to have nine functions, including “weather forecaster”, which I suppose meant if you couldn’t tell what time it was, it was either cloudy or already raining on your dumb ass.
Now we step into the yesterday of political incorrectness with rubber masks. There’s Satan, an “Idiot”, and……umm……..a Minstrel. This advertisement, only partly shown, suggests that wearing one of these masks was a great way to bag the ladies, since they found it terribly amusing. In the parlance of the day, you could “panic a party” (whereas today you could “earn a lawsuit.”)
This next one is, for me, the most appalling of all. It seems there was a company back in the 50s whose sole purpose in life was to create photo enlargements. In exchange for giving their sales information to twenty of your friends, they would send you………brace yourself……..a monkey. How they shipped it to you or managed to keep it alive during the shipment (or, indeed, kept it from committing monkey suicide out of terror en route) is beyond me. It’s hard for me to believe that the good people of the U.S. had much success with miniature monkeys shrieking and throwing poo around the house across the suburbs of our once-great republic.
For nascent crimestoppers, there is the “new toy gun” which, it seems, fires off pieces of potatoes. No big deal. What I find intriguing is the story they lay out in in the ad, in which a couple of young chaps stop a bank robbery cold (and are immediately paid for doing so by Mr. Bank Manager). It takes some serious suspension of disbelief to think hardened bank robbers would be stopped in their tracks by some ten year old holding what appears to be the letter “L” from Sesame Street in his hand, but that’s how the story is told. One can only hope the kids of the 50s didn’t seek out to emulate this behavior by hanging out in rougher parts of town with their weapon, waiting for their payday.
The ads weren’t all just for kids, though. There were ads aimed at adults as well, and judging from the ad, there must have been plenty of desperate, disillusioned dads in America. Allow me to lay out what was being advertised here, as the story is told: (1) a guy pulls up in his driveway in a new car under the gaze of his envious neighbor, who puzzles over how he could afford such a luxury (2) the car owner states he is pulling down the big money by selling shoes door-to-door (3) Instead of laughing hysterically, the neighbor implausibly inquires as to how he can muscle in on this kind of action (4) the neighbor evidently signs up to be a new salesman for Mason Shoes, and he is provided a catalog and, yes, a sample air cushion which is the distinctive edge of Mason that makes them better than other shoes (5) the poor bastard pesters his neighbors, co-workers, and anyone else with feet to buy these shoes, and he does well enough that Mason sends him some sample shoes, sparing him the continue embarrassment of having nothing more than a soft insole as his only selling aid.
We finish our journey with an ad specifically targeted to adult women (why they would be reading Archie comic books is beyond me, but there we are). The ad portrays a town whose women are having their engagement and wedding rings stolen from their homes. Mary has been robbed too, but she’s chill. How could this be? After all, the diamonds were worth at least a thousand dollars! That’s easy – – because Mary has her actual jewelry locked up in a safe where no one can see or enjoy it. What she’s been wearing on her fingers day after day are a set of rings that cost $2.98, and apparently no one could tell the difference. Nice going, Mary. I bet they look fabulous.
Well, that’s it for our trip down memory lane. Perhaps you were expecting an article on trading. But ask yourself – – how much value have you received from all the articles you’ve been reading about trading for the past eight years? Yeah, that’s what I thought.