Maurice Collins has written a terrific new book about his collection of bizarre and outlandish gadgets and doohickeys called — wait for it — Bizarre & Outlandish Gadgets & Doohickeys. It’s a wonderful collection of objects made between 1851 and 1951 by what you might call early disruptors. Recently, I spoke to Collins to find out how he got started in this curious collecting realm, and asked him to point out some of his favorite pieces.
The Memorandum Clock is not an especially disruptive piece of technology, unless, of course, you’re a customer in one of those houses of ill repute. It’s just a timepiece, you might say, whose time was up. For a better example of attempted disruption, as well as good old-fashioned charlatanism, Collins directs my attention to the “Anita” Nose Shaper, which, he tells me, was “the ultimate in nasal quackery.” The Memorandum Clock, he notes with some pride, is an English item. “This is American,” Collins says of the Nose Shaper, with just a trace of judgment in his voice.
According to an advertisement for the device, the cure for “nasal irregularity” is as easy as strapping on the nose adjuster before bed—“No need for costly, painful operations,” promises the advertising copy. In a few short weeks, your ugly nose will be as cute as a button. “What a con,” Collins huffs, “quackery to the Nth degree.”
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I've written about this 1960s commercial for Sixfinger before, but it's been at least a few years since I last watched it, and it still never fails to amuse me, especially because I had one when I was a kid. From the snappy proto-rap soundtrack, to the hyper-excited boys, to the not-at-all-phallic appearance of the toy, this commercial is a winner on several fronts.
“Sixfinger, Sixfinger, Man Alive! How Did I Ever Get along with Five?” Read the rest
Comic book historian Craig Yoe has a new book out called Super Weird Heroes, a 320-page compendium of Golden Age comic book stories featuring some of the strangest superheroes ever concocted. Nature Boy, Rainbow Boy, Cat-Man and The Kitten, Hydroman, Spider Widow, and 60 other mind-bending crimefighters are included.
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Liza Daly writes: "I’m fascinated by the fertile period between ’79 and ’83, when computers and consoles went mainstream and hundreds of game companies sprung up overnight. These developers were often obscure — sometimes just a P.O. box and a single teenager — but a few racked up enormous profits. And while there were no real rules yet, there was one agreed-upon convention: graphics were primitive and were never to be shown on the cover. This led to an awful lot of experimentation, for better or worse."
Box Art Brut: The no-rules design of early computer games Read the rest
See sample pages from this book at Wink.
I’m willing to bet that your relationships with significant others aren’t as convoluted or mind-boggling as the ones you will find in Weird Love, a collection of love comics from decades past. I know that because I’m also willing to bet that you are more culturally evolved than your ancestral fictional characters that populated these four-color pages culled from the heyday of making women feel bad about pretty much everything. That’s what makes this collection so ridiculous. Weird Love gives us a glimpse into a time when the needle on the social gauge floated somewhere between “rampant sexism encouraged” and “casual sexism customary.”
While these stories probably weren’t intended to be comedic at the time, the warm blanket of history has swaddled them in ludicrousness. We have no analog for the petty, unflappable dickishness of the men, nor of the frank, almost callous lack of agency of the women depicted in the pages of Weird Love. Soap opera seems only a vague comparison, for soap opera tends to be at least a little self-aware. Nor can you compare it fairly to modern prose romance, for I would have to assume that modern romance writers likely enjoy what they do. The most important thing to remember about Weird Love is that literally all of these comics were written and drawn by middle-aged white men. They were either guys who typically wrote western, crime, horror, sci-fi, and superhero comics and liked doing those, or guys for whom creating comics was just kind of a job. Read the rest
Swiss watchmaker Henri Maillardet created the "Ethiopian caterpillar" in 1820 (or thereabouts) for a wealthy Chinese collector. It's covered in gold and encrusted in jewels and peals. It was sold at Sotheby’s in 2010 for $415,215.
From the Oddment Emporium:
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When the automaton movement is engaged, the caterpillar crawls realistically, its body moving up and down simulating the undulations of a caterpillar by means of a set of gilt-metal knurled wheels. The automata work is composed of a barrel, cam and two levers all working together to create the crawling motion.
When the kaleidoscope was invented in 1816, it triggered a mania in England. People who couldn't afford their own would pay an enterprising street hustler a penny for a glimpse into the phantasmagorical mirror world. In the illustration above, a gentleman in the street is paying attention to his kaleidoscope instead of the street traffic and collides with a hobby horse rider. One writer of the time called the kaleidoscope one of the "most important inventions and discoveries of our time."
Atlas Obscura has an article about the Victorian kaleidoscope craze, which includes this paragraph about a man who felt betrayed by the device:
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A playwright and philosopher in Victorian America, R.S. Dement, recalled the moment he discovered what was inside a kaleidoscope as a child. Writing 61 years after the kaleidoscope had initially been brought to market in the UK, Dement said that he was originally fascinated by the reflections of colors bouncing around in various symmetries; but upon taking the kaleidoscope apart, he discovered nothing but “numerous pieces of colored glass, without symmetry, unsightly in themselves, have no connection with each other and but very trifling value." He felt betrayed, “deceived into believing that what he saw was at least the shadow of something real and beautiful, when in truth it was only a delusion.”
Paul Messing emailed me and said, "I watched the footage Boing Boing had on Facebook yesterday - the dancers from another time and place - and I added some music of mine and edited all so the clip is even more amusing, but no less bizarre."
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The Public Domain Review came across a 19th century book called Die Heilgymnastik in der Gynaekologie.
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As the title implies the gynecological exercises are based on those invented by the Swedish obstetrician and gynecologist, Thure Brandt (1819-1895). Brandt began treating women in 1861, combining massage, stretching, and general exercise as a form of treating gynecological conditions. After his methods were examined in Jena by German gynecologists in 1886, they became widely used in Europe. The images in this particular text are eye-catching today less for the gynecological technique they depict but more the bizarre similarity between the rakishly thin figures employed in demonstrating the exercises (no doubt an attempt to de-sexualise the images) and the figure of the so-called “Grey Alien” – thin body, huge head, large eyes – which wouldn’t hit popular consciousness for another 65 years.
Artist Amy Crehore came across this odd 1810 illustration after searching Wikimedia for "Females with pink dresses in art." Read the rest
Soon after American soldiers returned home from World War II, a new type of magazine was created for them – the man’s adventure magazine. With names like, Peril, Male, Real Men, Men in Conflict, Stag, Man’s Epic, and Man-to-Man, these magazines featured “true” stories about vicious animal encounters, sexually demented Nazis, sadistic communist spies, bloodthirsty headhunters, and whip-cracking women in leather bikinis. The sensationalist articles and outrageously lurid cover art were xenophobic, racist, misogynist, and gratuitously violent. They turned the things readers feared into cartoonish caricatures that could be defeated by a rugged cleft-chinned hero with a torn shirt and a blood-stained bowie knife.
It's A Man's World, edited by Adam Parfrey, is a fascinating coffee table book containing hundreds of covers, depicting everything from Fidel Castro about to snub out his lit cigar on the bosom of a half-clothed damsel in distress, to an absurd weasel attack (cover line: “Weasels Ripped my Flesh”). It includes a history of the magazines showing their origins in “cowboys and Indians” magazines and war propaganda posters, and has profiles and interviews with the journalists and illustrators who cranked out content for the magazines during their heyday of the 1950s - 1970s.
It's A Man's World: Men's Adventure Magazines, The Postwar Pulps
It's A Man's World
by Adam Parfrey (editor)
2015, 320 pages, 10.9 x 8.5 x 0.7 inches
$17 Buy a copy on Amazon
See sample pages from this book at Wink. Read the rest
The Hotspur was a boy's story newspaper from Britain that launched in 1933 and featured fantastical covers with giant monsters, robots, and extraterrestrials in conflict with stalwart humans.
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"1940s Celluloid Caterpillar Thimble Holder. US$65.87, 7 bids starting at US$5.00." (Via Notes from a Thimble Psycho) Read the rest
An extraordinary scene took place on Saturday last at a small village within three miles of Middleton. A half-witted fellow named James Driscott had cruelly ill-used his donkey. He was told by several of the villagers that he would be brought up before the magistrates and severely punished; but his informants said that if he consented to do penance for his inhuman conduct, no information should be laid against him. Driscott gladly agreed to the proposed terms. The donkey was placed in the cart, and its owner, with the collar round his neck, was constrained to drag his four-footed servant through the village. The scene is described by a local reporter as being the most laughter-moving one he had ever witnessed. — Illustrated Police News, Jan. 22, 1876
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"There's one person nobody can resist and that's a baby."
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That's Bertha Boronda in the lower left square. I'm not sure if her proud look reflects her satisfaction of having the biggest hat or successfully cut off her unfaithful husband's penis with a straight razor in 1908.
Female inmates of San Quentin State Prison and their very fine hats
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Women are needed in “hundreds of war jobs.”