Creepy vintage novelties (photo gallery)

A couple of weekends ago I took my 15-year-old daughter to the fabulous Farmers Market in Los Angeles. It isn't a typical farmers market. It was established in 1934 at the corner of Third and Fairfax, and over the years it has grown into a charming, bustling cluster of shops and restaurants. It has a great toy store, a bunch of really good restaurants, produce stands, butchers, home made ice cream shops, nut vendors, florists, barbers, shoe shine stands, and other specialty shops. It's got a distinctly old school feel, and thankfully has not been modernized. The whole place is covered so you can walk around in the rain or the blistering sun. It's one of my favorite places in Los Angeles.

Sarina and I had a great time visiting the Shine Gallery there, a place that sells vintage memorabilia. Somehow they are able to get their hands on large quantities unused novelties, magic tricks, and other ephemera. My overall impression from visting the shop was that people in those days had a nasty sense of humor. Here are a few of the things we came across there:

These plastic cigarette cases have passive aggressive messages printed on them, such as "Take one you cheap skate," and "Leave one for me! Chiseler."

This was the first magic set I ever owned. My cousin received it as a Christmas gift and never used it. Whenever I came over to visit I pulled it out of her closet and immersed myself for hours in the tricks and booklet. After my tenth or so visit, she ended up giving the set to me. The Mystic Smoke was a gloppy paste that you applied to your fingers. When you rapidly rubbed your fingers and thumb together for 30 seconds, a few strands of cobwebby glop would drift away for a few inches before dropping to the floor.

It's fun to watch your friends break their teeth on these plastic peanuts. It's hilarious when they choke on them and turn purple!

On the left: Calling card for stalkers and other "lovers." Right: A piece of plastic disguised as a pat of butter, for "party fun." The plastic was filled with dark specks, which would scare off anyone about to butter their toast.

If the magnifying glass hadn't shifted in its packaging I would have been fooled!

Check out Shine Gallery's excellent online catalog


  1. The first time I went to the Shine Gallery, I could not tell if I had walked into an actual store or a museum that displayed vintage items. I was almost afraid to touch anything. Great stuff!

  2. I agree with you Mark! I don’t care much for Los Angeles in general but whenever I visit my brother there I always visit the Farmer’s Market as it’s one of the best places in town. I was glad he used to live a few blocks away as that part of town is one of the most walkable parts of the city – lots of cool places accessible on foot, which is unusual for LA!

    1. LA is an odd beast, it feels like a bunch of neighborhoods stolen from different times and places and sewn together into a franken city. At least until you get to the outer suburbs which are like the ‘burb-iest of all ‘burbs.

      1. They were my fave thing I ever bought in a magic store with my limited pocket money as a kid. 

        I remember that the smoke from them smelled like solder smoke, so I’m guessing that they used pine resin. Don’t know how the periodic puffing effect was achieved.

        1.  I got curious and unwrapped one once – there were variations in color, implying different materials..maybe little explosive bits (gunpowder or phosphorus?) to make the smoke rings? I loved the way they smelled. They are NOT easy to find now.

  3. Craptastic! What a cool store, great that it’s around. I love a bad novelty as much as the next guy (well, probably more!) but I hope not to see any of these items in a Quarterly&Co offering, Mark. 

    On second thought, what would Randy Regier do…?  Do you think NuPenny had a sister company that made novelties? Hmmmm…

  4. For future reference, you should avoid the word ‘novelty’ in pleasant company.  My wife got upset the other day when I used the term ‘booby trap’.  It’s like that.

  5. if this place wasn’t the inspiration for the magic shop in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, i’ll eat my hat.

  6. Re the passive-aggressive inscriptions on cigarette cases, there’s many a milieu where such a thing would be spot-on perfect.

    Some of my friends could use one actually, since I’m attempting to quit and only smoking OPs when drinking…

  7. One more thing about the cigarette cases, they’ve got that “Tijuana Bibles” mystique to them, all the way.

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