Scanning Around With Gene: Occasional Oddball Image Roundup


Each week when I go through my piles of printed ephemera looking for images on specific themes, I always end up flagging a few things for the “oddball” file. These are typically ads for items that no longer exist — often for obvious reasons — or are perfectly fine images that are victims of changing cultural values or language. Lately the oddball file has grown so large that I’m introducing a semi-regular roundup of these images, which I’ll pull out on those occasions like today, when I’m not motivated by any other theme. If you click on each image you can see a larger version.
I could easily fill several columns with images that would now be considered offensive due to their racism, sexism, or other isms, but I’m trying very hard to stay away from those. I’m not sure what we learn from them, and it often feels exploitative to run them, especially when I’m not making a specific point. That said, it’s hard to know where to draw the line between something that seems funny due to time past, but may also be somewhat weird or creepy by today’s standards.
For example, I’ve been holding on to this special 1939 edition of Popular Mechanics magazine, trying to find a place for it. One of the dictionary definitions of “kinks” is “an unusual or eccentric idea,” so in 1939 this was perfectly appropriate. I’m not exactly sure when “kinks” took on a different meaning, but I don’t think you’d see Popular Mechanicsrunning such a cover these days.

And although I could run many, many examples of ads that used the term “gay” before it became a lifestyle description, I don’t find that particularly funny in and of itself. But this one image from a 1962 California Zephyr train ad seems particularly prophetic in the statement: “So gay, so colorful, and so much fun, you’ll think you’re already in San Francisco!”

Perhaps subtle drug humor seems sophomoric, but I found myself laughing pretty hard when I came across this ad for Bell Telephone long distance service in 1955. I’m not sure anyone who’s had two bongs and a bing should be driving home anytime soon.

Sometimes things make it to the oddball pile because of lessons we’ve learned over time. That’s certainly the case here for these two ads: The first, a 1943 ad for Keasbey & Mattison Company of Ambler, Pennsylvania, advocates using asbestos to make mufflers for loud typewriters. The second, from 1952, has a stewardess handing out cigarettes on a United Airlines flight.

Despite the current enthusiasm for moose hunting and shooting wolves from helicopters, we’ve actually come a long way in our respect for and treatment of animals. It’s hard to imagine modern companies actually promoting the use of animals in product testing, but in 1937 Pond’s face cream did (top image), as did Shell Oil in 1945 (middle image); and in 1965 Pontiac seemed somewhat politically incorrect in using a dead tiger to promote the GTO (bottom image).

We currently have an obesity problem in America, especially among kids, but it wasn’t too long ago that being skinny was considered a fault. First up is a 1942 ad for a weight-gaining drink called “Hemo,” and below that an ad for Nutrament from 1967.

Often fate intervenes and turns an innocent ad into a historical curiosity. Such is the case with this ad for the cruise ship Andrea Doria from 1953. In 1957 the Andrea Doria struck the Swedish ship MS Stockholm and sank, killing 46 people.

Once in a while I see something and put it in the oddball file simply because it was ahead of its time. This 1942 ad for Shell Oil, for example, significantly pre-dates the recent Play with Food series of books and greeting cards.

Continue to page 2 for more oddities!

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Gene Gable has spent a lifetime in publishing, editing and the graphic arts and is currently a technology consultant and writer. He has spoken at events around the world and has written extensively on graphic design, intellectual-property rights, and publishing production in books and for magazines such as Print, U&lc, ID, Macworld, Graphic Exchange, AGI, and The Seybold Report. Gene's interest in graphic design history and letterpress printing resulted in his popular columns "Heavy Metal Madness" and "Scanning Around with Gene" here on
  • intellicomm says:

    What I find most interesting about that ad is how it belies the belief that we invented cross-promotion sometime in the last 20 years. This one ad sells United Airlines, Chesterfield cigarettes, Dale Robertson, AND Twentieth Century Fox’s latest movie. Not bad for such a small space!

  • hhipkins says:

    Does anyone recognize the typeface used in the (top) caption of the Budweiser ad?
    I need it!

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