Tag Archives: Johnson Smith Company

Throwback Thursday: Masks from The Johnson Smith Company Catalog!

I found the picture below floating around Facebook — it’s part of the selection of masks advertised in The Johnson Smith Company Catalog, probably sometime in the late 1970’s.  (As I’ve mentioned a few times here at the blog, I cherished that catalog and anything I could afford to buy from it when I was a kid.)

If memory serves … these were more expensive by the time I got my hands on the catalog in the early 1980’s.  Maybe the prices went up by then?  (I thought the masks sold for $20 or $25.  I desperately wanted several of them, but my spending range capped at maybe $10 when I was a second or third grader.)

It was the monster masks that excited me.  (Characters like the “Dirty Old Man” or the presidents had their genesis in some kind of weird grownup humor that befuddled me as a kid.)  That “Skull” mask was one that I desperately wished for.  (I also remember some sort of screaming skull face with sharp teeth that I wanted even more badly.  It had a protruding mouth and a black cloth over its head, maybe?)  The “Werewolf ” also would have attracted my attention.

If you look closely, you can see that some of these masks aren’t all that impressive.  The “Alien” is probably a little less menacing than its designer intended, and “Santa Claus” feels problematic.  “Frankenstein” is just sad; he looks like Michael Myers fathered a child with Smurfette.  Oh, well.



It’s here! It’s here!

My Johnson Smith Company catalog has arrived!!  This is the first time I’ve gotten one in the mail in … 30 years?  35?  (I ordered it on a lark when I wrote that Throwback Thursday post a few weeks ago.)

What a trip!  The mail order company has definitely changed somewhat.  The catalog is far fewer pages now; as you can gather from the picture below, it’s closer in size to those free circulars that you can pick up outside the supermarket.

I was disappointed to see that there are fewer pranks and novelties aimed at kids.  (Whoopee cushions and X-Ray Specs, for example, are nowhere to be found.)  There are far more wares aimed at adults — they include a surprising number of sex toys for both men and women.  (The company adamantly asserts in bold red letters that these items are Non-returnable.)  There is an abundance of pro-Trump merchandise too — check out that “Donald Trump Life and Times Coin & Trading Cards Collection” in the second photo.

Ah, well.  You can still find some cool stuff.  Those “Alien” and “Predator” … “Body Knockers(?)” look pretty neat.  And that Mego “Nosferatu” doll is goddam spectacular.  (I had no idea that the Mego Corporation  was still making toys.)  I don’t know whether its eyes glow in the dark, but I really, really want to believe that they do.






Throwback Thursday: The Johnson Smith Company Catalog!

Ah, The Johnson Smith Company Catalog — the Holy Bible for little boy pranksters, magicians, spies, collectors and monster lovers everywhere.  The goofy novelties I’ve written about here at the blog could all be found among its fabled pages — even if they frequently lay outside the limits of what my boyhood allowance could buy.  (Note the “Greedy Fingers Bank” top left in the third picture below, for example.  This is the same wind-up toy that was occasionally advertised as the “Novelty Coffin Bank.”)

As the pages below show, you could buy anything from “X-Rays Specs” to smoke grenades to itching powder to Halloween masks to “Whoopee Cushions” to “Joy Buzzers.”   There were dozens of dubious “how-to” books as well, for would-be practitioners of such arcane pursuits as Kung-Fu or hypnosis.  And there were some risque items aimed clearly at adults — primarily decals and clothing.  (Does anyone under 40 remember “iron-ons” for t-shirts?  That was actually more of a 1970’s thing than a 1980’s thing.)  The Halloween masks, especially, were the stuff of legend among me and my friends.  But the “deluxe” masks cost $25, if memory serves, which was well outside my grade-school price range.

Goddam, but this catalog stimulated a kid’s imagination.  When it arrived in my mailbox, it seemed like a magical, exotic tome from some parallel universe where everything was made up exclusively of monsters and ninjas and gadgets.  Adding to its mystique was the fact that I never actually sent away for it — I wound up on the company’s mailing list around 1979 after buying something from the back of a comic book.  I forget what that fateful inaugural purchase was.  It might have been the “Sea Monkeys” that I wrote about two weeks ago, but I have a feeling it might have been stamps.  (I fetishized stamp collecting for a lengthy period of my early childhood, and was elated by those 500-stamps-for-$5-type offers that you sometimes found in comics.)

The scans below were downloaded from Pinterest; it looks like the first two are from the 70’s and the third one is from the 80’s.  But they’re both representative of any catalog that I received from 1979 through the early part of the next decade.  The small pages were crowded with random ads, mostly in little black-and-white boxes.  The pictures of the products were frequently just drawings, and often did not convey the real value of what you were buying.  (Remember, this was a vendor that sold “X Ray Specs.”)

The Johnson Smith Company is still around, too.  (They’ve been a thing since 1914 … I have no idea how the modern Internet marketplace either helps or hurts a company like this.)  But you can find them online right here.  I just ordered a catalog.





Throwback Thursday: Vampire Blood!!!

I’m not even sure that this should be a Throwback Thursday post, as I’m pretty sure it’s still being sold in stores before Halloween.  In the 1980’s, this was indispensable every October to aspiring Draculas everywhere.  You could also order it from the Johnson Smith & Company catalog — which was sort of a Bible to little boys who loved pranks and monsters.

We just called it “Dracula blood.”  You didn’t put it on your fingers, like the kid in the illustration — you applied it on your face to make it look like blood was running out of the corners of your mouth.  Maybe once in a while, you’d get a tubeful derived from an inferior batch of the stuff, and it would be orangeish.  But it was always fun.


Imagineering Vampire Blood "Safe" 1970's Monster Toy Fake Costume Vampire Blood | eBay:


Throwback Thursday: the novelty coffin bank!

Dear Lord, did I love this little contraption at the age of eight — the vintage novelty wind-up “coffin bank.”  I saved my allowance to purchase it from the catalog of The Johnson Smith Company.  (And that amazing fabled catalog should eventually be the subject of another Throwback Thursday post.)  I endlessly played with my coffin bank and verbosely demonstrated it for anyone polite enough to feign interest.  I think my zeal for this cheaply made mechanical tin toy equaled that of Gollum for Tolkien’s Ring.

The item is apparently still popular with collectors, but is also easily found online for a few dollars.  I’m a little unsure about how old the toy’s design is.  I got mine in … 1983 or so? Some websites categorize it as a “70’s toy,” while others name it as an artifact of the 50’s or 60’s.

It was manufactured in Japan; the occasionally awkward wording on the box and on the side of the bank betrays that, I think  …  Yes, it is “mysterious” and “hilarious,” but I’m not sure it is a “party stopper.”  (Did they mean “party starter?”)

You can see it demonstrated in the video below.  The wisdom of age finally reveals to me that the sound it made is profoundly nerve-grating.  My poor parents.