Novelty Items
By Karen Parr-Moody

The beauty of a store like GasLamp, with thousands of items, is that one is always sure to find something novel. But even among the unusual, there are those that truly stand out.

As the dictionary says, a "novelty" is "an article of trade whose value is chiefly decorative, comic, or the like and whose appeal is often transitory." These are typically amusing items that put a smile on the faces of friends and family and would fall under the classification of "conversation pieces." They are not all along the lines of a a fake gun that shoots out a "BANG!" flag. But what they do require is a sense of humor.

With its floating ladies and magicians in tuxedo, the poster, right, is surely to bring smiles to the faces of those who appreciate turn-of-the-century advertising; it an original "Thurston's Astounding Mysteries" poster from 1935 ($65; B-2010). Howard Thurston (1869-1936) was a popular vaudeville magician who put on such a production that he required 10 railway baggage cars to transport all of the equipment used in his traveling show. One of his tricks? Making a car filled with lovely assistants disappear into thin air. Another? Making his pretty assistant levitate and then disappear, as this poster advertises.

Thurston's show was part of a movement during the late 1800s and early 1900s during which magic shows captivated the American public. Magic shows were filled with such activities as levitation, sorcery, apparitions, mind reading, and various other supernatural events. This poster, which would have advertised Thurston's arrival 77 years ago in Durham, N.C., is a timeless piece of Americana.

Another movement that swept America was the cowboy craze during the 1950s. Suddenly children's toy phones were adapted into the "ranch phone" seen in the photo, left ($58; Booth B-125). Presumably used by cowboys to call other cowboys and to discuss typical cowpoke business, this phone would have been one of the only non-gun toys in a budding John Wayne's toy box. The wall phone was made of lithographed tin and particle board by the Gong Bell Manufacturing Company. It is designed with a detachable earpiece and a turning crank handle that rings a pair of bells on top; it is covered in charming cowboy and cowgirl graphics. A collector of novelty phones would certainly give two spits about this "ranch phone."

 

 

 

 

 

This Charlie Weaver Bartender mechanical toy is a strange blast from the past (photo, right; $80; Booth B-200). Clifford Charles Arquette was an actor and comedian who was famous for his role as Charley Weaver, which he began enacting in the late '50s and early '60s on NBC's "Tonight Show." Charley Weaver was "the wild old man from Mount Idy." On the show Arquette would read a letter from his "Mamma" back home.  The actor would appear on stage -- and often in public -- wearing his trademark squashed hat, round eyeglasses, broad tie and suspenders. This battery-operated toy from 1962 depicts Charley behind a bar mixing a drink, then drinking it himself. His face then lights up due to a bulb in the head. It's a wacky little toy, to say the least.

 


 

This darling sugar pot, photo left, is from the now-defunct British manufacturer of earthenwares Dunn Bennett & Co. Founded in the 1870s, the firm made everything from dinnerware patterns to hotel items. This little pot, made of vitreous ironstone, depicts the adventures of a poacher ($28; Booth B-108). At one point he steals some chickens. At another point his prey is a pair of ducks. Then he attempts to grab a pig, which jumps into a mud puddle to escape. The poacher then runs away from the irate farmer who raises his pitchfork in the air. In yet another vignette, a policeman also gives chase. The story is humorous and cleverly drawn in bold black and white. It dates to the 1940 to 1959 and certainly is a novelty.

During the post Prohibition years, cocktail accoutrements reached their zenith of popularity, appearing in movies as symbols of the good life. Cocktail culture was still popular during the 1950s and 1960s, when the metal drink tray, right, would have been made ($42; B-2010). From Masonware manufacturers of alcohol resistant finishes, this vintage cocktail serving tray depicts six different drinks through illustrations by artist Joe Carpenter, who also created bridge and poker trays of the era. Among the drink recipes are the Manhattan, Tom Collins, Creme De Menthe frappe, dry martini, old fashioned and angel's kiss.

As every shopper knows, GasLamp is the place to be for finding unusual gifts and home decor. However, these items steal the show by tickling our funny bones or giving us the hint of a smile. Who could ask for anything more?

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