The Johnson Smith Catalogue

The above illustration is a collage of pages from the Johnson Smith Catalog, from photos
taken by Forrest Flanders, owner of the Old Catalogs website. Used by permission.

The Johnson Smith Company had a novelty catalog with the standard hand buzzers, wind-up clacking teeth, whoopee cushions, X-ray specs, and a pack of gum that snapped your finger like a mousetrap when you pull out a phony stick of gum. They also had a section dedicated to the paranormal. That’s what I focused on.

It didn’t take long for me to see that these products were not as profound as they appeared, but this was before the internet and cable TV, so reading those product descriptions in the catalog opened portals in my mind to vaguely transgressive secrets and destinations. Pyramids. “Ancient and Modern Magic.”

Below are examples of things I ordered. These are not my actual items because I told dad he could sell them at the Flea Market.

 “My main interest in these astral visions is not the veracity of the subject; it’s in the way people write about them, whether it’s Pliny the Younger, M. R. James, or a floating mummy novelty in a Johnson Smith Catalog. “ – Bill Ectric