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

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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 began. Days and then weeks would pass. All the while the mind raced on the possibilites of what might arrive: a treasure chest full of army men, snapping gum to prank your older brother, an air car hover craft, for pete’s sake! Surely this loot would make any kid the hero of their block.

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

A child’s first lesson in dissapointment 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

X Ray Specs

These glasses held so much promise. Imagine, the ablility 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

Sea Monkeys

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.

3. Charles Atlas Fitness Program

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.

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.

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 inner spring, creating a vibrating effect on your victim.

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10. Hypno-Coin

Hypno Coin

A common theme in 1970s comic books was hyposis. 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 post paid!


Even More Crazy Products from Comic Book Mail Order Ads

TricksTRICKS:

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

  • Hypno-Coin
  • 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
  • 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

Pranks

PRANKS & GAGS:

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
  • 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
  • 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.” 

Toys

TOYS:

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
  • Heavy Duty Trampoliine 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

Animals

LIVE ANIMALS, BUGS & PLANTS:

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 Monters in Your Own Room
  • Worms
  • Snake Eggs
  • Live Sea Monkeys
  • Pet Baby Raccoons
  • Imported Birds for Hunting: Falcons, Hawks, Eagles, Owls

Gadgets

GADGETS & NOVELTIES:

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
  • Pennants
  • 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
  • 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
  • Bike-O-Motor
  • Speed Swim Gloves
  • Skull Ring
  • Naval Cannon
  • Boomerang
  • Mounted Police Suit
  • Marriage License
More Comic Book Gadgets & Novelties
  • Mysterious Running Mouse
  • Hula Skirt
  • Telegraph Set
  • Crystal Radio
  • Field Glasses
  • Midget Bible
  • Invisible Helmet
  • Pedometer
  • “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
  • Smoking Pet
  • Black Light Bulb
  • Playboy Decals
  • Secret Book Safe
  • Stop Watch
  • Jack Pot 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 Motorcyle 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

Self Improvement

SELF IMPROVEMENT:

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)
  • Make Up 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
  • 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

Something for NothingSOMETHING FOR NOTHING (or next to nothing!):

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!

Fans of oddities and the unusual will enjoy Top Ten Famous Sideshow Performers and Freaky Human Oddities.

Or check out this list of 15 Weird, Wacky President Nicknames.

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