As mentioned, Teresa’s Frog Blog had an entry with a video ad for one of K-Tel’s pantographic E-Z Tracer. I actually had one of these K-Tel tracers. I recall the results were pretty clunky. However, the video made me think of another thing I had, the “Magic Art Reproducer.”
When I saw the ad for this, I knew I had to have one. What I thought I would be getting was a form of camera obscura, but what I actually received was a little plastic gimmick that you would clamp to a drawing board and peep through. With an angled mirror (and some orange smoke and unholy chanting) it would provide the illusion of what you were looking at projected onto your drawing paper, and then you could (supposedly) trace around it. And it never worked very well either. Hunting around for the “Magic Art Reproducer” ad is what catalyzed my fit of nostalgia.
[Edit: Apparently I didn’t know how to use the thing properly, if you believe what this artist has to say…]
This is probably the archetypical ad from the golden era. It appeared in countless versions. No, I never gambled the stamp… based on results.
As a kid, I always wondered what Cloverine Brand Salve was. Apparently you could get some nifty prizes if you sold enough of it, but I never tried, having had less than stellar results with greeting cards and stationery (see next item). And, apparently it’s still available. An interesting write-up on its history is here. A competing product, of which I always keep a small tin on hand, is Bag Balm.
This is one I tried. It was my first introduction to the world of sales, and although a few kind family members and friends bought some items, I wasn’t enthralled by the experience of selling door-to-door. I don’t think I actually sold enough to qualify for any sort of prize, but I recall making a bit of pocket change. One of these days I have a few things to write about sales and marketing in general.
If you grew up in this era and never saw an Uncle Monty’s Ant Farm™, you must have been living in a cave. I had one, and although a number of the ants arrived (under separate cover) dead, enough of them survived to make the experience interesting enough. Ultimately, of course, they all died and the toy was cast aside, but it did provide hours of fascinating watching.
This one always looked awesome to an 8-year-old. I never saw one in real life and as an adult, as I thought about it, I was certain that it would have been a disappointment. Apparently, this is one time I would have been wrong. A blog post from 2007 provided a picture of one, and despite some expected exaggeration in the copy, dang if it doesn’t look awesome (for an 8-year-old).
Ah, Sea Monkeys. Otherwise known as Brine Shrimp. I seem to recall I got some of these as a kid, but a clearer memory is buying some brine shrimp eggs from a science outlet for my own kids. They are pretty cool to watch. And because they’re phototaxic, you can “train them to obey your silent commands!”
Magic. Given the deserved success of Harry Potter, it will always captivate the minds of children of all ages. I think it was these ads and many other like them that led me to a lifelong fascination with magic and sleight of hand. Time has moved on and I’ve pretty much lost all my skill with a pack of cards, but the love remains, and I still have almost all of my books and equipment (at least the stuff that didn’t get completely worn out.) Perhaps some day when I can really retire I’ll pick it up again. “It’s fun to be fooled, but it’s more fun to fool others!” More on this subject at some point in the future.
On that note…
I still have the hypno-coin. I don’t think I bought it mail-order, but rather at Russ Delmar’s Magic Center on 8th Avenue – another post bubbling in the back of my mind will pay homage to this amazing man at some point – but yeah, I still have it. Never hypnotized a thing, but it’s cool to watch it spin round, à la “Time Tunnel.” If you were a real hypnotist, it would indeed be a good attention-focuser.
This one always got my attention. Never got a teacup dog (sometimes they were baby chihuahuas) or a monkey – thank Mogg! – but the concept of a tiny animal must have been fascinating for lots of people. Until the monkey grew up and started flinging… well, we know what monkeys do, and like raccoons and foxes, they’re not meant to be kept as pets.
These are but a small sample of the ads that I grew up with. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times – people were still relatively innocent, television still fairly new, and print-media advertising was still the primary vehicle for driving sales of all kinds. To look back at these adverts now – and you can find thousands of them on the net – makes me cringe just a little, but also makes me very nostalgic for simpler times.
PS – if you’re wanting more of this sort of stuff, I recommend Mail Order Mysteries – chock full of color illustrations showing not only the ads, but what you got if you ordered.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
Cross-posted from my Livejournal.