From Exploding Cigars to Whoopie Cushions! Novelty Items

By: Melissa Cole, Oshawa Community Museum Curator

So what does a Joy Buzzer, Whoopee Cushion, chattering teeth and the old “fly in the ice cube” have in common……they are novelty items.  Throughout history people have loved to play practical jokes on each other.  From one of the earliest being the exploding cigar to the Whoopee cushion, which is still funny today.  Novelty items became a lucrative business in the 19th and still are today.

Recently the museum received a large donation of items that belonged to Gladys Muriel Mowbray (Adelaide McLaughlin’s sister).  This collection contained over 50 items that included a wedding dress, jewellery, shoes, hats and many personal items including a few novelty items that were practical jokes.  At first I thought the one was a tin that resembled others that were already in the collection held at the OCM so I inspected the items further and realized they were novelty items.  This is something that I do not come across often in a donation to a local museum.   I wanted to find out a bit more about the two novelty items that were donated and discover more about the history of practical jokes in general.

The first novelty item is called Adams Salted Mixed Nuts also known as the “snake nut can”.

013.3.12 - an 'innocent' can of Adam's Salted Mixed Nuts
013.3.12 – an ‘innocent’ can of Adam’s Salted Mixed Nuts

The “snake nut can” is a practical joke device that closely resembles a can of nuts but contains a wire spring covered in cloth or vinyl, some are even printed like snake skin but not this particular one, which  leaps out of the can and startles the unsuspecting victim.  This could have been me….. I was very thankful to the donor who actually informed me of what the tin contained before I proceeded to open the tin of “Salted Mixed Nuts”.  The reason I always open the tins when a donation comes in is because quite often they are filled with little treasures that even the donor may not be aware of.

013.3.12 - not so innocent!
013.3.12 – not so innocent!

The “snake nut can” was invented by Soren Sorenson Adams, was known as Sam Adams, the king of Professional Pranksters,  of the S.S. Adams Co. circa 1915.  Adams’ wife Emily had been complaining about the jam jar, saying that it wasn’t properly closed or that it was sticky.  Adams was inspired by her nagging, then invented a spring snake – coil of wire wrapped in a cloth skin and compressed the two-foot snake into a little jam jar so that it would jump out when the lid was removed.  The snake jam jar then evolved into the snake nut can.  In 1928, S.S. Adams created the Joy Buzzer, and in later years also sold the squirting nickel and fake plastic ice cubes with bugs in them.  He was considered the industry leader in the field of practical jokes after creating over 650 novelty joke items.    He actively managed his company until the time he passed away in the 1963 at the age of 84.

The second item was a New Shaving Kit – with the headline WHAT EVERY MAN WANTS – NO BRUSH NO LATHER NO ELECTRICTY.

013.3.11 - The New Shaving Kit
013.3.11 – The New Shaving Kit

Around the edge of the lid are line drawings of assorted razors but inside the box is a fake pocket knife, a few sticks of wood and wood shavings.   It has a 1939 copyright date by H. Fish love & Co. of Chicago. Stamped lightly on the front is; Souvenir of Wichita, Kansas. The back of the box is a mailer label with a place for To and From and it could be mailed anywhere in the U.S.A. for only 3c.  The Howard Fishlove company was known for their fake vomit called “Whoops” the company manufactured 60, 000 units per year.

Practical jokes and novelty items have been making people laugh since the 19th century I am sure these two novelty items highlighted here have brought back memories for many.   

References:

Demaris, Kirk (2006). Life of The Party: A Visual History of the S.S. Adams Company. Neptune, NJ: S.S. Adams Co.

Newgarden, Mark (2004). Cheap Laffs: The Art of the Novelty Item. New York: Abrams.

Rauscher, William (2002). S.S. Adams: High Priest of Pranks and Merchant of Magic. Oxford, CT: David E. Haversat.

Month That Was – August 1951

Wednesday August 1, 1951

Ontario Spotlight:
Contest First Seats
Bronte (CP) – Ten candidates were nominated last night for the five seats on the council of this Lake Ontario community which finally attained status of a village after more than 100 years of trying. An election will be held Aug. 13.

Lost 50 years
Dundalk (CP) – Fifty years ago, Charles Wale of Hopeville, Ont., lost his gold watch in a field here, Alex Richardson, 12, recently found it and returned it to Mr. Wale, now ever 80. It was in fair condition, considering the length of time it lay in the field. The gold was tarnished and some of the wheels were rusty.

Sparking Lamp
A Canadian sparking lamp was shown at a lecture in Peterborough on life 100 years ago. It was explained that when a young man went to call on his girl friend in those days the girl’s mother lit the lamp. When it burnt out the caller had to leave.

Editorial Notes
Work is being done on the development of aeroplanes to fly five times faster than sound.  How, then, will the fellow in the control tower ever be able to get a message to them.

 

Thursday August 2, 1951

Dies Whiles Signing Will Bequest Ruled Invalid
Sydney, Australia (CP) – An ex-serviceman’s last wish to leave all his possessions, valued at more than $300, to a lifelong woman friend was nullified here when he died in the act of signing the will.

A justice of the peace and other witnesses were present when the man began to sign the document, but collapsed and died after writing his Christian names.

As he has no relatives and no dependents, he is officially assumed to have died intestate. Proceeds of the sale of his real and personal property will be transferred to general revenue.

A.A. House, deputy public trustee, explained that a will is not valid unless signed by witnesses in the presence of the executor. Even if the executor lost consciousness while witnesses were signing, the will would not be valid.

 

Friday August 3, 1951

Cow on Rampage
Reading, England (CP) – It wasn’t a bull in a china shop that caused the damage in this Berkshire town. It was a cow in a furniture shop. The animal escaped from a cattle market and did heavy damage to furniture before it was shot.

 

Saturday August 4, 1951

Joke Not Funny To Robber Hubby
Birmingham, Ala. (CP) – A jealous wife tipped police that her husband was a robber, then said it was all a joke.

But by that time the joke had gone too far, Detective C. L. Pierce said Thursday night – the husband had confessed to four holdups.

Pierce said Forrest Ford, 34, a former loan company employee, admitted the holdups.

The trip came in a letter from Mrs. Mable Ford, who later told officers she had written it only as a joke to “get even” with her husband.

Mrs. Ford said she was angry with her husband because he paid too much attention to another woman at party.

 

Thursday August 9, 1951

August 1951 - Laff-A-Day

 

Thursday April 16, 1951

Beat Labor Problem With 21 Children
A stork which for 24 years has been dive-bombing the home of Adelbert Smith, 56, Zurich, Ont. Farmer, paid another visit recently and brought, Mrs. Smith her 21st child, 19 whom are still living. The 45-year-old mother welcomed the latest arrival, a boy, and declared she is in favour of large families, for “folks who have them will never be lonely.’ Pop pa Smith experiences no farm labor problems, for his thirteen boys have become experts with tractors, and are ideal “handymen.” The happy couple are accustomed to large families as Mr. Smith was one of a family of 14, and his wife had five brothers and sisters.

 

Tuesday August 21, 1951

2 - August 1951 - Laff-A-Day

 

Monday August 27, 1951

What is a Canadian?
We are citizens of Canada, either by birth or by adoption and naturalization. We are citizens of the Commonwealth.

Our skins may be brown, or yellow or black or white, but we are Canadians. Our name may be Podolski, Fraser, Wong, Spermanti, Dubois, Schmidt or Jones. Our forefathers may have come from Glasgow, Prague, Tokyo, from Dublin, Bordeaux, Roterdam or Newcastle. We may be laborer, student, doctor, merchant, or machinist.

Whatever we are, whatever our occupation, whatever our background, if we accept Canada as our country, and with it the democratic way of life, we are Canadians.

We have the right to speak freely, to worship freely, but with these rights we must learn our duties, to speak wisely, to worship wisely, to choose our leaders wisely.

We inherit, along with 14million Canadians a vast continent, abounding in resources and opportunities for a good, healthy and a happy life.

We inherit two great cultures – the Anglo-saxon and the French – and more than thirty others as well. We are creating out of these a new and growing Canadian culture. We are at the dawn of great things, for us and our country. We are the builders of a great and free nation, of a great and free people.

It’s great to be a Canadian.  – Kiwanis International Magazine

Student Museum ‘Musings’ – Emily

Hi there, I’m Emily, one of the summer students working at the museum this summer. I am a fourth year English Literature student at Trent University, hoping to go into Archival or Library Science in post graduate studies. I also volunteered here before this summer.

What I’ve spent most of my summer doing is digitizing a Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection. This collection is what you would get if you took Thomas Henry’s desk and poured it all out. In this collection there are correspondence letters, bill of sales, receipts, and a few essays among others. I finally finished digitizing this collection last week and the final count of items in this collection was 525. By digitizing these papers I spent most of my time scanning, so far this summer. While the collection has 525 items, I ended up scanning 1043 scans. And on an average I probably did about 40 scans per day.

An envelope, addressed to the Rev. Thomas Henry
An envelope, addressed to the Rev. Thomas Henry

Among the letters in this collection there are about 40 family letters, which have begun being transcribed, and being the English student that I am, what I find most interesting about the letters that are in this collection is the lack of uniform punctuation, grammar, and spelling throughout the letters. Within one letter a single word could be spelt different three times, and I really find that fascinating because of how structured language has become in today’s world. I feel like the difference between writing today and writing from say 1863 is a very interesting marker in how different things are today. It seems to me that the evolution of language is equally as important when studying history, as studying the evolution of other aspects of our society, as is more commonly looked at and taught in schools.  It seems that both today’s structure of writing and that of 150 years ago have their strengths and weaknesses. And reading these letters on thing that came clear to me is how these letters seem to flow much easier than a letter of today. Whereas in contrast a letter of today do have much more uniform writing, something that the correspondence of this collection more often than not, do not seem to have.

Thomas Henry - this oil painting hangs in the the Henry House Parlour
Thomas Henry – this oil painting hangs in the the Henry House Parlour

But overall, what I took away from looking at these correspondence letters is that while it changes frequently, writing is extremely important for communication, and while it can change mediums overtime, which is clear as I write this blog post, it still seems to maintain the same weight and importance for a man like Thomas Henry, as it does today.

Student’s Museum ‘Musings’ – Caitlan

Since the last time, I told you that I was starting to work on the Robinson Book. So far, so good! The first rough draft has been printed and we have begun the first round of editing – So far everyone seems to enjoy it! Also I told you how I never did tours with my morning co-op and how I was afraid to mess up. I was quite surprised to find how much the information was in my head. Although my first tour was nerve racking, now when I go on a tour my mouth just seems to work on its own!

Robinson House on a lovely summer day
Robinson House on a lovely summer day

The book and tours were not only my first here at the museum; last Thursday was the museum’s first summer garden tea. It was also my first tea and it went perfectly. The sky was clear and blue, it was not too hot plus all the guests had really big smiles on their faces! Setting up and taking down all the tables was a bit hard, as I do not exactly have a whole lot of strength, but the food definitely made up for that! Towards the end of the tea when some of the guest left for the tour I was caught a couple times by Laura Suchan stuffing my mouth full of the leftover sandwiches. In all truthfulness, they were absolutely delicious and I just could not help myself (the cucumber and cream cheese is my favourite!)  Although I am not the type of girl that likes to wear dresses or skirts and having to wear the costumes is really awkward for me, the amount of fun I am having here is definitely worth it!

Lastly I have begun to transcribe letters we received that the Henry family wrote. One really stood out to me so far. It was written by George to his mother, Lurenda, shortly after Thomas’ death. George talks about how much it hurts to lose a father but it hurts even more to see his mother in pain. George continues on with this beautifully well-written metaphor on life. He says life is like a “great train” that we’re all “stepping off one by one”. That there is no return train and “all alone we walk through the dark vally and shadow of death with the blessed hope of the saviours strong arm to lean upon.”  At the end of the letter he writes “I remain as ever your son George”. While reading this letter you just become lost in his words and you could sense his pain he had after losing his father. The letter was absolutely heart breaking to read yet so incredibly beautiful. 

Letter from George Henry to his mother Lurenda, 1880.
Letter from George Henry to his mother Lurenda, 1880.

12 Reasons Why Drinking Tea is Wonderful

As our summer tea season is quickly approaching here at the Oshawa Community Museum, I thought I would take some time and share why I think tea drinking is just so wonderful. Whether you like Earl Grey or English Breakfast or prefer Peppermint or Green, tea is full of health, social and delicious benefits. Here are 12 reasons why drinking tea is wonderful:

 

1)      Tea, when consumed in moderation could have positive health results. According to Time Magazine, along with helping protect against cardiovascular and degenerative diseases, research suggests that the antioxidants in tea might also help ward off certain types of cancer.

 

2)      Tea comes in all sorts of flavours and types. Real tea is derived from the plant Camellia Sinensis and includes only four varieties: black, white, green and oolong. Anything else that is herbal, isn’t technically considered a tea because it’s infused with different plants. Nevertheless, when you visit a tea shop (whether technically tea or not) you are presented with all sorts of flavours, colours and types and there is bound to be one that will suit any taste bud.

 

3)      Tea has little to no calories, but tons of flavour. You can still brew a robust, full flavoured tea without having to consume a lot of calories. What this means? Tea is ideal for those trying to watch their waist line or trying to lose a few pounds.

 

4)      Tea is popular. Now, normally popularity isn’t a good deciding factor on whether or not something is awesome, but the facts about tea’s popularity shouldn’t be ignored. According to the Tea Association of Canada, Canadians drink almost 9 billion cups of tea each year, which in 2012 equals out to about 380 million dollars in hot tea sales. On a global scale, tea is considered the most consumed drink sitting behind water. Why is this important? Simply put, it means you can buy tea almost anywhere. Its popularity means you don’t have to go searching too far to find a cup of tea.

 

5)      You can individualize tea. Whether you take it with sugar and milk, or just milk or just lemon or you prefer iced tea. If you like dishwater tea or prefer a strong tea, one of the reasons tea is so great is that it can cater to your own unique taste.

 

6)      Tea has a long and interesting history. How many beverages can say they have been part of large political protests? Tea is a drink that has been so intertwined into the social and political fabric of many countries that its history makes for an exciting and interesting tale.

 

7)      Tea has procedure, tradition and proper etiquette. For example, it is inappropriate to lift the saucer when drinking tea, this is considered rude and not proper behaviour for a tea. Furthermore, there is a whole meal dedicated to tea, whether it is low-tea or high-tea.

 

8)      Drinking tea means cleaning fewer dishes. Regular tea drinkers will tell you that are never suppose to wash a tea pot. Apparently the tannins in tea stick to the pot and over time will make your tea better and better.

 

9)      It’s cheap! Yes, specialty teas can be disastrous on your wallet, but if you choose to stay with a traditional Orange Pekoe, each cup will cost you literally cents to make.

 

10)  Drinking tea is the perfect social drink. Doctors recommend letting tea cool before consuming, because drinking extremely hot beverages could have negative effects on your oesophagus. This means that you have to let your tea sit before consuming, giving you time to converse, shoot the breeze, and gossip.

 

11)  You can grow your own tea. Here at the Oshawa Museum we take advantage of the space we have behind Henry House and grow our own tea. This allows you to know how fresh the tea is and pick the flavours that you like best.

 

12)  Finally, tea is wonderful because you can enjoy it here in the Oshawa Community Museum’s Victorian gardens during our summer teas!

Quite picturesque!
Quite picturesque!

There you have it 12 reasons why tea is just wonderful. Why do you think tea is a wonderful?

 

Come visit us and enjoy your cup of tea on July 25 or August 8 or August 22 for our summer Victorian Teas in the garden. Cost is $10 for OHS members and $15 for non-members. Or join us on July 21 for a tea + talk, where Joyce O’Connell will be discussing how quilting has changed since the 1900s. Cost for tea + talk is $20 a person. Please note reservations are required for all teas, call museum for details.