July 28, 2014


My grandpa could put the name of your business or organization on anything— mostly cheap plastic things like magnets, coasters, key chains, pens, and balloons. He was able to feed his family one gross of custom printed ice scrapers at a time. When I was a kid, his home office was a wonderland of catalogs, salesman kits, and product samples. Over the years his products became increasingly newfangled as the novelties got more novel in an effort to boost their attention-getting powers. He always had extra goodies so after every visit we would return with a bounty of new knick knacks that found their way into our kitchen drawers and our everyday lives. These items promoted stores we'd never heard of that resided in far away towns we'd never visit, but that mattered not, because the potholders protected our hands, and the chip clips kept our Cheetos fresh.

One of the joys of my visits was flipping though grandpa's binders of product ads. As is the case with many wholesale operations, his vendors promoted their new products with single, hole-punched ad sheets so that he could customize and update his personal master catalog. The items inside were things that wouldn't typically get the full page, full color treatment. This made the experience unique, and I always appreciated getting to peek behind the curtain of the retail world.

Luggage tags and key fobs must have been a hot seller for my grandpa because the Tag-Master logo became very familiar to me...

I'm not sure how well they sold, but one of the staples of my grandparents' house were these "Coinsters" coasters, which were usually covered with a huge glass of sweet iced tea wrapped in a paper towel.

Our car was always equipped with a litterbag. The holes at the top would fit over the door locks so they'd inevitably fall off when you pushed down to lock them. The other option was to hang them from the knobs on the car's window roller-uppers. I'll never forget the feeling of the stuffed bag of debris whipping around anytime I tried to roll down my window.

Thanks to ebay, and one powerseller in particular named "powerrangers," I've been able to relive this pastime of perusing old ad sheets. I've handpicked some of my favorites from literally thousands of listings, and shared them here.

Now that I'm looking at them through the eyes of a graphic designer there's even more for me to ponder. The layouts are usually stark and utilitarian. They are almost un-designed, yet there are still some typefaces and subtle flourishes and color pallets to take in (some calculated, many not at all). One thing that I'm drawn to are the backgrounds which are often monochromatic voids, simple, yet better than white. But that's enough of me acting like there's some sort of academic reason to look at these. They are pure eye candy for more reasons than I can name. So start looking.

Oh, no! You mean the gigantic hideous clown face has been discontinued?

There may or may not be an unfortunate name among these.

Igor The Monster is the clear winner here.

Everything about this is so right.

Ever notice that some products look very enticing when in bunches, but when you come away with just one it feels like a letdown?

Hats off to Classy Glass who put together this spread complete with peanuts and a mysterious dark jungle. I wonder whose idea it was to dump the icy liquid on the table?

I'm very fond of this Sun Packer ad. It goes to show how some simple dots and a sharp typeface can make an ice cooler seem glamorous.

Ah, the Howard Johnson color scheme is always welcome. I also love how they made the asterisk on "Coffee pot and casserole not included" into a cool mid-century style starburst.

Everything about this image brings comfort to my soul.

Even gumball machine charms need to be advertised!

I can't believe this existed...

Just typing this description is going to be fun—Vintage over-sized inflatable advertising displays

A five foot dedicated Wacky Straw display for your store? They wish!

What a glorious dream, to be touring some vacationland, to enter a souvenir shop and come face to face with this neatly arranged assortment of Impko products.

Or how about this glorious dream? You're a kid, it's October and you're walking into a store. There are footprints on the floor that say "This way to lucky box." You follow them to find a giant toy-filled Jack-o-lantern!!

The giant toy-filled stocking, rocket, and Easter bunny are all incredible, but they can never compete with the Halloween-related dream.

From what corporate hell did this emerge? I would spitefully dial some long distance numbers using the exposed keys...

My grandpa's binders didn't usually have actual toys, but that doesn't stop me from appreciating this assortment of toy ad sheets...

It's not often that copy writers get to use the terms "disfigured face" and "sinister acts of terror" in the same spot.

"You can make a kid's dreams come true with a replica [of the Greatest American Hero's Convertible Bug.]"

It's never too early to teach kids about the sex appeal of fast food.

The Snap Fit line from, I believe 1974.

This is like a glimpse into an alternate reality where novelties get the marketing attention they deserve.

I like to imagine that this appeared in Time Magazine.

You can keep your Farmville and Candy Crush, these are portable apps, Grandpa Style!

Today I am thankful for witnessing the massive furry owl.

The "Superman II tray / Lipton's Noodle soup" combo nursed me back to health countless times.

Welp, you won't be seeing anything better for the rest of the day, that's for sure.


Brian Barnes said...

Well, that's just awe inspiring. Put that in a folder and it's the perfect bathroom book.

I'm still stunned how many of these ads point out the "non-toxic" nature of their wares. Is there a specific book for the toxic versions? If you get some crazy straw without the non-toxic label, are you to blame when a mixture of lead and brains pours out your nostrils?

You're wrong about the playmate puppets ... Igor isn't the clear winner. The clear winner is the Santa puppet, as he's the one with the hot lady's hand up him. "Playmate" indeed.

"Chartreuse" instead of "Green"? Somebody is putting on airs!

What fantasy hat should I get? I can be king, scurvy-addled pirate, or racist caricature! Choices!

Jody Birchfield said...

I could swear that "Britains Point Of Purchase Display" was the exact case they had at our local "Toys By Roy." It was filled with those same miniatures of animals, soldiers, etc. I also had a pair of Slinky Crazy Eyes myself! And who knew there was ever an action figure of Robert Culp?
Sincerely, Dick Hooker

Kirk D. said...

Yes, the whole collection is a celebration of rarely seen, third tier curiosities.

Brian- Sure they're non-toxic, but I want to know if they're Flame Retardant?

Jody- Funny you mention that because our local video store had that exact display full of Corgi cars left over from a toy shop the owners used to own.

realneo said...

Wow! I actually owned that Prestige Jackpot Slot Machine (middle top) until last year, or maybe I still have it. I remember weighing the pros/cons of continued ownership, I can't remember the final decision.
I know the coins were mostly lost, payouts were slim.

Kirk D. said...

Nice to hear from you realneo!
Boy that one is quite a substantial machine. Interesting that it includes its own coins. You must have admirable storage if that thing could be hiding among it.

My grandfather (not the one who owned the ad sheets) had the little poker game at the bottom of that page, and he played with it more than most people use their iphone.