Catalogs #31: Irresponsible 1938 Novelty Catalog

Counterfeiting is fun!

Retrospace doesn't typically go back as far as the 1930s, but this find was too good to not share.  It's the 1938 Johnson Smith & Company Catalogue of Surprising Novelties, Puzzles, Tricks, Joke Goods, Useful Articles, Etc.  (They had a way with words back then, didn't they?) What stuck out to me was the politically incorrect tone and social irresponsibility of it all.

Of course, it was a product of it's time. There's no use in wagging fingers and becoming offended by it Please take my snarky comments with a grain of salt - my shock and horror is all in fun.  And I should also mention that I didn't scan this myself, but rather found it floating aimlessly on the interwebs and thought it could find a home on Retrospace.  So here it is.

Yes, let's not only ship reptiles through the mail, but lets also put in a racist joke for good measure.  Way to go Johnson Smith & Company.

And as long as the robbers happen to see you admiring your fake weapon, you'll be safe and sound.

I'm getting the distinct impression Johnson Smith & Company were a bunch of jerks.  Their marketing strategy seems to be a combination of (1) enabling deviant behavior in youth, (2) racism, (3) animal cruelty and (4) false advertising.  Seems like a winning strategy to me.

Ha, Ha! Won't this be fun? Let's get this innocent old man a police beat down.

Inciting violence and now cheating.  What's next, novelty terrorism?

Oh, dear.  I spoke too soon....

I don't think it's a great leap to realize that maybe those "bullet dice' will work nicely with the "Ronson Repeater" strategically placed next to it in the catalog.  And if it doesn't quite work, I'm sure a little old fashioned elbow grease and some soldering (also conveniently located nearby) will get it in working order.

Indoor fireworks.  What could possibly go wrong?

Make sure you hold your laughter until the unsuspecting victim begins to bite down on a chocolate made of....wait for it...... rubber!  But be sure you are fully licensed in CPR and can dislodge an obstruction from a windpipe.

"If you don't like this, go to hell and buy your own."  Nice.

Check out the many ways firearms can be fun!....

Put this pencil sharpener in your kid's school supplies.  I'm sure the teachers will love it!

I repeat: What could possibly go wrong?

Let's just hope that the person you're shooting at is wearing protective eye wear.  This could get ugly.

"Scares thieves and surprises friends"!



  1. I always thought X-ray specs were for looking through women's clothes. Must have been reading the wrong comic books.

    Article on a potential smartphone add-on chip to let you see through walls:


  2. I remember Johnson Smith from the 70s, amazing how such very cheap useless gags were irresistible to american youth. Still got my box of rattle snake eggs somewhere, and I don't the the surprise snake lighter lasted a week.

    Check out this book for some answers to "was that really a...": http://www.amazon.com/Mail-Order-Mysteries-Real-Stuff-Comic/dp/160887026X and the companion blog with even more mail order revelations: http://secretfunspot.blogspot.com/2011/12/lost-mail-order-mysteries.html

    1. The blog link was to just one article, here's the link to the blog, which is chock full of em: http://secretfunspot.blogspot.com/

  3. I've ordered from the Johnson Smith Co. several times thru the years. Of course, the ads I remember were for things like the world's smallest transistor radio, safes that look like household items, novelty playing cards, etc.... Oh, and of course, gags. They're still around: http://www.johnsonsmith.com/

  4. I ordered a fake foot from them once. Not as a gag, but to scare away burglars. I'd place it in a doorway so it looked like someone was hiding behind the door. Never had any burglars, but the foot scared me several times. I knew it was there, but I still jumped when I saw it. I still have it, in fact, but I keep it in a box in the closet.

  5. Great post! I'm gonna make me my own homemade pencil rifle. What a great idea!

  6. I'm ordering the Comical Tongue and Teeth RIGHT AWAY. I can't wait to "look exceedingly funny"!

  7. Rubber chocolate! A laff riot!

  8. Almost every item above was available (maybe with a little less racism involved) in comic book ads up until the late 70s..

    These guys knew their audience. Kids are natural anarchists who want to see thru walls, peek at that note to the parents from teacher, and upset the staid adult world....

    Al Bigley

  9. I remember that the X-Ray vision gadget didn't work... it just created a sort of double-focus effect that looked vaguely like an X-ray picture.

    The engine squeal bomb plays a major part in this 1939 Nancy Drew movie:
    along with dozens of other things that we can't even THINK about today, let alone write about.

  10. I don't know what's more hilarious--the ads themselves or the commentary. What's up with all of the fake guns? Since it was the 1930s and the Great Depression, were they marketing to Bonnie and Clyde wannabees?

    I betcha the fellow who wears the Comical Tongue and Teeth to a bar is the most popular guy with the ladies.

  11. That chameleon looks like a lizard, not a chameleon.

    I love all the fake guns. In the 1930s, every kid had a toy gun. In Charlotte's Web the boy took his BB gun to school on the bus!

    1. It's a lizard called an Anole. I bought one around 1968. I did change color from green to brown. It lived about two weeks. The meal worms they sent with it as food ended up eating it.

    2. I kept anoles in the 1980s and 1990s, and they lived for years and years. Maybe yours was sick when you got it.

  12. Gee, just when did we become a "gun culture" ?
    I was under the impression that it was a recent spiral and the fault of video games and violent movies.

    Now where did I put that gun remote?

  13. Interesting that guns were an integral part of culture then and gun crimes, especially mass shootings, were pretty rare. Maybe Butch and his thug buddy knew something the habitually prohibitionist progressives have never figured out.

  14. Hi:

    The auto fooler, car bomb device worked to great effect in North Carolina in about 1970. My Uncle Calvin had just bought a new Mercury and was proudly showing it off.
    The south is a car culture and Uncle Calvin is one of the most car cultured. Anyway, when Uncle went inside to pee, my Dad secured the device to the car's engine.
    Then when Uncle Calvin fired up the car at Dad's insistence, there was huge bang and whine in the engine area. Uncle Calvin started freaking out: yelling screaming and crying.
    We let him carry on for a few minutes. But soon our laughter hipped him to the idea that we may have nobbled his new ride. His suspicions were realized when he saw the autofooler device attached to a spark plug. Boy was Uncle Calvin mad. He ran at us all and started punching away. I got a good slug to the head. Dad took a solid kick to the ass.
    It took a good thirty minutes for my uncle to cool down.
    Such fun. And the auto fooler device only cost a dollar at the time.

    Thanks For the Post and Your Fun Website:
    Tutti Cavalieri

  15. I remember owning the gun projector. Mine came with a Hopalong Cassidy "film" (really, a film strip), and it was a prized possession (some time in the 1950's)!

  16. I've read that some fellers in both North Korea and Iran got hold of some of those Magic Money Makers and turned out some dandy looking 100 dollar bills.

    Tutti C