Sunday, September 03, 2006


In Praise of Fake Vomit

This week over at The Stranger, I delve into Kirk Deramarais's Life of the Party, a beautiful new visual history of the S.S. Adams Company.

Haven't heard of S.S. Adams? Well, you've certainly been squirted, buzzed, and otherwise annoyed by them:

In 1904, Soren Sorenson Adams was a Danish immigrant toiling in a dye factory bedeviled by a chemical byproduct that induced violent sneezing. Voila!—sneezing powder was born, and so was the Cachoo Sneeze Powder Company. By 1906 it was the S.S. Adams Co., and a new American industry in squirt rings and exploding cigars was born. Nickel and dime wackiness flew fast and furious out of their New Jersey warehouse: 1908 heralded the spring-loaded Snake in the Jam, and the next year brought us the immortal Dribble Glass. It's comforting to imagine Henry James's grandchildren afflicting him with this crap.

Ah, I can't help it: I just love the idea of Henry James with a dribble glass.

One additional tidbit, which got sacrificed to the Word Count God and didn't make into the Stranger:

The other Adamic father of gag art was the Johnson Smith Company of Mt Clemens, Michigan; innumerable children pined for their iconic X-Ray Specs. Their 1929 catalogue was reprinted in 1970 as a facsimile edition with an introduction by Jean Shepard—a perfect pairing—and it's well worth digging up from used bookstores. Put Life Of the Party over one eye and a battered old Johnson Smith catalogue over the other, and you'll have your very own pair of x-ray specs into American childhood.

Cheap copies of the Johnson catalogue --both in it's original and Shepard editions -- turn up all the time on eBay, and it's an ideal coffee-table purchase. Kirk himself has a great page on 1970s Johnson Smith comic-book ads...

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?