Meet these incredible collectors of the gags and novelties sold in old comics

Stan and Mardi Timm are serious collectors of Whoopee Cushions, Joy Buzzers, X-Ray Spex, Doggie Doodit, The Ventrilo, stink bombs, squirting flowers, and the other delightful gags and novelties that you might have seen in the back pages of comic books. The Timms are true scholars of these pop culture icons and the companies that manufactured the 1,800 items in their collection that the elderly men are now trying to sell as they downsize their lives. From Lisa Hix's profile in Collectors Weekly:

“Novelties are so much more than goofy, silly things,” Mardi says. “Everything that comes on to the marketplace starts out as a novelty. They’re things that are not common, things that make you say, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen one of those before!’ or ‘What is that thing?'”

The collection documents U.S. popular culture from the mid-1910s through today, Mardi explains. Exploring the Timms’ catalog, you can identify the problems that plagued Americans over the decades—particularly in the early 20th century, when most Americans lived in more isolated rural communities—and sometimes unintentionally hilarious ways they tried to solve those problems. (Is your bath cold? How about you plug an electric heating device into the wall and then put it in your water?)

“We have the Tark Electric Razor, which is a scary thing for me,” Mardi says. “You put razor blades in it, you plug it in, and the thing vibrates. Now, would you want to put that on your face if you were a man? I don’t think so. But that was a novelty at the time...”

The intentional humor is also revealing. While fart jokes transcend time, other wisecracks and gags are specific to their eras. Today, many of us would be unsettled by the racial caricatures, ethnic stereotypes, ableism, cruelty about physical appearance, and overt objectifying of women that you see in early Johnson Smith joke books and pranks.

“Our collection gives us insight into day-to-day, regular folks—what they were interested in and what was funny to them,” Mardi says. “It’s American culture. It’s our history. That’s what’s important about this collection. It’s not just the stuff, but what the stuff represents.”

"Fun Delivered: World's Foremost Experts on Whoopee Cushions and Silly Putty Tell All" (Collectors Weekly)

image: Stan and Mardi Timm