10 Best Comic Book Mail Order Ads: Novelties, Gags & Gimmicks

What child of the 60s doesn't remember handshake buzzers, X-Ray Specs, and live sea monkeys?

Children of the 1960s and ’70s first learned one of life’s great lessons—you get what you pay for—in the pages of their favorite comic books. Cheezy comic book mail order ads featured fantastical items that could not be ignored by wide-eyed children. Live sea monkeys! X-Ray Specs! Atomic Joy Buzzers!—the very objects of a child’s imagination, right there on the page and available for a paltry sum. Exactly what kids really wanted!

When the cash was sent, the waiting begins. Days and then weeks pass. All the while the mind races on the possibilities of what might arrive: a treasure chest full of army men, snapping gum to prank your older brother, an aircar hovercraft, for Pete’s sake! Surely this loot will make any kid the hero of their block.

Finally, the item arrives. The envelope is much smaller than expected. Regardless, you rip into it and there it is, a tiny piece of cheap plastic. You’ve been duped.

A child’s first lesson in disappointment and heartbreak.

As nostalgia often goes, we now look back on these gimmicky objects with fond remembrance; they are now a part of our cherished childhood. Out of the many hundreds of different objects offered in comic book mail order ads over the years, we have selected our picks of the ten best.

10 funny products from comic book mail order ads

The heyday of comic book mail order ads lasted from the 1950s to the 1980s. While most people saw these items as rip-offs, gimmicks, and junk, others now look back fondly on them. Many of these amusements and gizmos are now highly collected by baby boomers.

And be sure to check out the full list of kitschy comic book novelties below!

1. X-Ray Specs / X-Ray Vision Glasses

Comic Mail Order Ads: X Ray Specs image

These glasses held so much promise. Imagine, the ability to see through skin and, yes, even clothing. And the object of your focus would be none the wiser! Many a kid fell for these cheap glasses that merely produced a simple optical illusion.

2. Sea Monkeys

Comic Mail Order Ads: Sea Monkeys image

The picture in the ad showed fascinating creatures with human-like features frolicking in the sea. In reality, they were brine shrimp. You put them in a jar of water, watched them hatch and grow, but they looked nothing like the illustration in the ad.

You might like 37 Common Idiom Origins.

3. Charles Atlas Fitness Program

Comic Mail Order Ads: Charles Atlas Ad

Charles Atlas sold young readers on his “Dynamic Tension” program from the early days of comic book advertising. The ads hit at the heart of any insecure teen boy’s fears. “And to think they used to call me SKINNY!” Bullies would not be able to kick sand in your face any longer. The Charles Atlas program would change anyone into a hulking strongman.

Famous comic book mail order ads

4. Spooky Bank / Coffin Bank / Greedy Fingers Bank

Greedy Fingers Bank

This mechanical bank was actually pretty cool. When a penny is placed on the coffin, a skeletal hand raises up and drags the penny into the bank. These cheaply made banks are sought by collectors.

Top 10 Most Valuable Comic Books

  1. Action Comics #1 – Sold for $3.2 million in 2014
  2. Amazing Fantasy #15 – Sold for $1.1 million in 2011
  3. Detective Comics #27 – Sold for just over $1 million in 2010
  4. Batman #1 – Sold for $567,625 in 2013
  5. Superman #1 – Sold for $507,500 in 2018
  6. X-Men #1 – Sold for almost $500,000 in 2012
  7. Flash Comics #1 – Sold for $450,000 in 2010
  8. All-Star Comics #8 – Sold for $411,000 in 2017
  9. Tales of Suspense #39 – Sold for $375,000 in 2012
  10. Marvel Comics #1 – Sold for $350,000 in 2003

Check out Hidden Treasures: The 15 Most Valuable Attic, Wall, Garage Sale Finds, featuring a wall-find Action Comics #1.

5. Black Dragon Fighting Society Book:
“World’s Deadliest Fighting Secrets”

Black Dragon Ad

The martial arts were big in the 1970s, thanks to the popularity of the TV series Kung Fu (starring David Carradine) and Bruce Lee movies. Comic books from the era featured ads with the image of Count Dante striking a menacing pose, grabbing the attention of young comic book readers. If kids were feeling picked-on at school, they could learn the “World’s Deadliest Fighting Secrets” and take back the power… for FREE!

6. 100 Soldiers Footlocker

Footlocker Soldiers

This was the classic hoodwink deal. The comic book ad promised a menagerie of fighting men and objects of war, all contained in a giant footlocker. And for only $1.75! Or so it seemed… What you really got was a small plastic box with a bunch of flat plastic “soldiers” that mostly didn’t stand up on their own.

The best comic book mail order ads

7. Whoopie Cushion

Whoopie Cushion

The flat, pink rubber cushion worked exactly as promised. Many a kid pranked their buddies, parents and even grandma with this one. Blow a little air into it, surreptitiously slip it between the couch cushions, and hilarity ensues!

8. Snapping Gum

Snapping Gum

Pranksters could not resist the Snapping Gum gag. It held too much potential for mischief and mayhem. And if your victim didn’t look too closely, it looked somewhat like a real pack of gum. Kind of. Oh, and it did sting your finger with a spring-loaded wire if you took out the gum.

9. Atomic Joy Buzzer

Atomic Joy Buzzer

One of the most famous gag items is the Atomic Joy Buzzer. The small metal buzzer just needed to be wound up and kept hidden in your hand. Then just find someone to trick. Any unsuspecting chump would do. Shake their hand and the button releases the tightened innerspring, creating a vibrating effect on your victim.

10. Hypno-Coin

Hypno Coin

A common theme in the 1970s comic books was hypnosis. The not-so-subtle implication was you could gain greater control over the opposite sex. Right! The Hypno-Coin was just a small disk with swirly lines. Flash this baby in front of anyone and have them obeying your commands in no time flat! Only $1.00 postpaid!

You’ll also enjoy these 8 Thrift Store Treasures that turned into big money.

Even More Crazy Products from Comic Book Mail Order Ads


Comic book mail order ads Tricks image


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Would-be magicians only had to reach as far as their comic book to find all kinds of tricks and routines.

Automatic Hypnotizer (hypnotic whirling coin)
Bag Full of Laughs / Electric Laughing Bag
Spooky Bank/Coffin Bank / Greedy Fingers Bank
Hypnotize with Any TV Set
Chinese Finger Torture
X-Ray Spex
Here’s Love Spray Perfume
Kryptonite Rocks
Smoking Dog
Peeping Skeleton Hands
1000 Magic Tricks
Electronic Lie & Love Detector

Fun Tricks

Magic Cards
See Behind Glasses
Throw Your Voice
Trick Baseball
Finger Chopper
Super Smoke Screen
Snowstorm Tablets
Balance Throwing Knife
Trick Deck
Smoke From Your Fingers
Disappearing Ink
Automatic Hypnotizing Record

Comic book mail order ads Pranks image

Comic book mail order ads


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A staple of comic book mail order ads was the gag item. Pranksters finally had an endless supply of material to test out on friends, siblings, and classmates.

Snapping Gum
Throw Your Voice (Ventrilo Voice Thrower)
Joy Buzzer / Vibrating Shocker (joy buzzer)
Snake Nut Can
Squirt Flower
Squirt Cigar
Bathroom Parking Meter
Fly in Ice Cube
Vampire Blood
Smoke Bombs
Whoopie Cushion
Fake Facial Hair
Fake Poop
Imitation Vomit
Icky Upset Stomach Mess (fake vomit)
Krazy Krax (fake crack lines for windows and TVs)
Fake Traffic Tickets
Fake Cherry Bombs
Crazy Licenses
Dribble Glass
Avalanche Shave Cream
Deluxe Electric Shock Pen
Squirting Nickel
Snowstorm Tablets

Good Gags

Red Hot Gum
Amazing Hot Seat
Foaming Sugar
Stink Loads (cigar & cigarette)
Exploding Loads (cigar & cigarette)
Life-Like Lady’s Legs
Onion Gum
Snake Nut Can
Phony Arm Cast
Arrow Thru Head
No Tear Sugar
Tricky Golf Ball
Smoke Cloud
Trick Black Soap
Itching Powder
Hot Seat
Hypo-Phony (hypodermic needle)
Dehydrated Worms
Sneezing Powder
Exploding Fountain Pen
Atomic Joy Buzzer
Magic Soap Powder
Phony Brick
Hollywood Blood Capsules
Pie in Face Foam
Noisy Nose Blower
Hot Pepper Bubble Gum
Fake Dog Mess
Fake Doggie Doo

Gross Gags

Joke Gum
Squirt Toilet Seat
Hilarious Talking Toilet
Stink Spray
Trick Pencil
Life-Like Mouse
Severed Foot
Exploding Cigar Loads
Fake Parking Tickets
Fake Cockroach
Squirting Camera
Magic Re-lite Candles
Fake Bullet Holes
Foaming Sugar Joke
Joke Gum
Rubber Dollars

Grit Newspaper Ad

Grit Newspaper Ads

Almost every comic book in the 1970’s had ads recruiting boys to sell Grit Newspapers in their hometowns to earn a little money. Grit called itself “America’s Greatest Family Newspaper.”

Comic book mail order ads Toys image

Comic book mail order ads


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Comic book mail order ads offered toy selections for all ages.

P.F. Flyers
Plastic Army Men
Monster Hands
Monster Size Monsters
Giant Comic Ears
Giant Realistic Gag Chicken
Scary Life-Size Monster Ghost
Horror Masks
Monster Box
Build Your Own Monster
100 Soldiers Footlocker
U-Control 7-Foot Life Size Ghost
Deluxe Alien Mask
Giant Slimy Snake
Electric Train Set
100 Little Dolls

Fun Toys

Heavy Duty Trampoline Kit
Space Shoes
Daisy Air Rifle
Authentic Superman Costume
7 Foot Monster
Monster Ghost
Skin Head Wig
Werewolf Horror Mask
Ventriloquist Dummy
Motorized Water Machine Gun
Star Trek Spaceships
Official Star Trek Coin Medallion
Star Trek Exploration Set
Flying Helicopter
Planet of the Apes Mask
Rubber Masks with Hair

Read how famous toys are created: Classic Toys: Slinky, Yahtzee, Twister, and More

Comic book mail order ads Animals image


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Yes, live animals could be purchased by mail order back in the day. In retrospect, probably not a good idea for anyone involved, especially the animal.

Free Miniature Monkey
Live Seahorses
Darling Pet Monkey
Live Chameleon
Exciting Ant Farm
Venus Fly Trap
Your New Real, Live Miniature Dog
Grow 2 Living Monsters in Your Own Room
Snake Eggs
Live Sea Monkeys
Pet Baby Raccoons
Imported Birds for Hunting: Falcons, Hawks, Eagles, Owls

Comic book mail order ads Gadgets image

Comic book mail order ads


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Simple gadgets and novelties were the most common type of offering in comic book mail order ads.

Skull Key Chain
Real Switchblade Comb
Spy Pen Radio
The Money Maker
Bike Decals
Crazy Signs
Comic Felt Patches
Krazy Stamps & Labels
Talking Teeth (chattering teeth)
Horror Record / Horrible Sounds Record
Magic Miracle Money Maker
Karate & Judo Medals with Ribbons
12 Ivory Elephants in a Bean
Two-Headed Nickels
Secret Pocket “Pen” Radio
Hercules Wrist Band
Exploding Hand Grenade
Ram Jet Engine
Carbide Cannon
Blinking Signal Light
Secret Book Safe
Portable Electric Fan
Martial Arts Patches
Secret Match Pen

Fun Novelties

Perpetual Match
Powerful Shriek Alarm
Deluxe Revolving Police Style Warning Light
Penny in a Bottle
Magnet Lifts 100 Pounds
Pocket Umbrella Hat
World’s Smallest Dictionary
Self Stick Rainbow Letters
Haunted House Mystery Bank
Life-Size Inflatable Doll
Midget Colt Revolver
Skull Flashlight
Rattlesnake Belt Buckle
Spy Scope
Silent Dog Whistle
Colorful Magic Rocks
Real Ukulele
Under Water Goggles
Speed Swim Gloves
Skull Ring
Naval Cannon
Mounted Police Suit
Marriage License

More Comic Book Gadgets & Novelties

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Mysterious Running Mouse
Hula Skirt
Telegraph Set
Crystal Radio
Field Glasses
Midget Bible
Invisible Helmet
“Spud” Gun
Weighted Wristlets
Secret Safe
Sling Shot
Hi-Power Adjustable Telescope
Secret Agent Spy Camera
Atom Pistol
Ninja Sof-Stars
Realistic Badges
Switchblade Knife
Squirrel Call
Leather Bull Whip
Pocket Guitar
Giant Balloons
Loud Carbide Cannon
Squirt Lighter
Mini Police Badge
Lucky Rabbit’s Foot
Super Magic Smoke Clouds
Bang Party Snappers

Cool Gadgets

Smoking Pet
Black Light Bulb
Playboy Decals
Secret Book Safe
Stop Watch
JackPot Bank (slot machine)
Real “I Love You” Penny
Flashing “Police” Light
Crime Detection Lab
Pocket Calculator
Electric Motor
Electric Police Siren & Flashlight
Martial Arts Patches
Police Handcuffs
Pocket Spy Telescope
Silent Dog Whistle
1001 Insults, Putdowns for All Occasions / Insult Encyclopedia
Mini Chopper Motorcycle Parts List
Encyclopedia of World Records
Electric Sound Switch

Comic Book Mail Order Houses & Distributors:

Many different companies sold products via comic book mail order ads. These are just a few of them:

Johnson Smith Co.
Honor House Products Corp.
American Circle Corp.
Helen of Toy
Abracadabra Magic Shop
The Fun House
Gandalf Products Company
Fun Factory
Victor Specialties

Comic book mail order ads Self Improvement image

Comic book mail order ads


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For those seeking self-improvement, comic book mail order ads never fell short on offerings.

Charles Atlas Fitness Program
Black Dragon Fighting Society Book “World’s Deadliest Fighting Secrets”
Powerex Isokinetic Exerciser and Course
Have Your Poems Set to Music
Cartoon for $$$
Be Taller Fact Booklet
You Can Have a He-Man Voice Booklet
Giant Life-Like Karate Practice Dummy
Learn to Play Guitar the Chet Atkins Way
Be a Great Athlete Guidebooks
Bruce Lee Kung Fu Book
Vacutex (blackhead remover)
Makeup Kit
Deluxe Make Up Set
Play Harmonica in Minutes
College Degrees by Mail
11 Keys to Power
Fencing Set
Muscles of Steel
Learn the Art of Dancing
Secrets of Black Art
Forbidden Knowledge
Joe Weider’s Course

Expert Courses

How To Box
Rope Splicing
Boy Electrician
Too Skinny? Tablets
Clean Foggy Eyes
Muscle Fighter IV
Weak Broken Nails?
Universal Bodybuilding
American Combat Judo
Be A Ventriloquist
Blackhead Remover
Be 2” Taller Instantly (shoe lifts)
Be a Giant Killer / Oriental Fighting booklet
Kung Fu Secrets booklet
Unarmed Combat Fighting book
Unbeatable Self Defense booklets

Comic book mail order ads Something for Nothing imageSOMETHING FOR NOTHING (or next to nothing!):

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Then there were the “too good to be true” items. A lunar module for 10¢? Now that’s value!

Build Your Own Apollo Lunar Module for Only 10¢
Frontier Cabin
Polaris Nuclear Submarine
Air Car Hover Craft
Indian and Lincoln Cents by the Pound
We’ll Pay You $50 for This 1972 Penny
Free One Million in Cash
Free Bag of Stamps
1001 Free Things
Surprise Package
Own a Real Texas Ranch
Air Car Hover Craft
Giant Flying Cessna Acrobat

There you have it—a return trip to the ’70s by way of wacky comic book mail order ads. We hope they put a smile on your face and brought back fond memories!

— Greg Johnson

Greg is an art director, writer, and co-founder of Listcaboodle.


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