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Selections from the 1959 PICO Novelty Catalog

10 August 2009 Things We Like 27,643 views 8 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

Never heard of PICO Novelties?  That’s okay; neither has Wikipedia.  PICO was a Los Angeles-based boutique, as well as a supplier to American dime stores, souvenir shops, and similar types of crapatoriums.

PICO has gone the way of lodge meetings and stag parties, but it left behind some wonderfully peculiar artifacts that give us a reason to hit the pause button on our modern lives so that we may simply marvel at them, and possibly learn a lesson or two.  For your viewing pleasure, photographs of the actual items have been included alongside the original product listings.

Hip Nip Ad

Hip Nip
For anyone who’s ever wished to drink from a drunk.  But not just any old boozehound — this lush has got a sense of style, so it takes some of the lameness out of alcoholism.  Simply twist off his skull, apply your lips to the headless neck and down your favorite hooch.  Is it odd that I still feel sorry for the individual who had to hand-glue the purple ribbon to the bottle, even though it happened nearly fifty years ago, and there’s a reasonable chance that they’re no longer with us? Sheesh, I just realized that someone also had to tie that little ribbon.

Ash Receiver Ad

Everybody’s Ash Receiver
Notice the what-you-see-is-what-you-get nature of this listing. The PICO catalog was intended for retailers, thus it lacks the deceptive tactics that were so commonly found in consumer-targeted magazine ads of the time.  This means that shopkeepers had a full understanding of the product, and still they thought “Some of my customers will want this ash tray with the miniature toilet.”  I can’t determine if the underlying joke is just outmoded or if it ever really made sense.  There’s one way to find out: Next time you’re at grandpa’s house, ask him for an ash receiver and see what he brings you.

Kissin' Bell Ad

Kissin’ Bell
There will always be a market for anything that can potentially take the work out of romance; consider the popularity of flowers, chocolates and wine.  But if your words already tend to “break the spell,” it’s not likely that whacking a Pavlovian dime store chime is going benefit the mood.  What else can be said of the Kissin’ Bell?  Even the copywriters at PICO seem bewildered; the best they could muster was some praise to its construction.

Puff Cigarettes Ad

Puff Cigarettes
Or feel free to call them “Puffo Cigarets (sic)” — to each his own.

What? The ones in the photo most certainly ARE the same product that’s in the catalog.  See the little man with the derby?  I KNOW it’s on the wrong side, that’s just artistic license.  Sure they appear much longer than they do in the illustration, but just look at the little crown on each cigarette, they went out of their way to draw the little crowns and mine has the little crowns!  Fine, then … never mind!

Shiner Ad

Shiner Black Eye
Compared to other toy disguises of the era, the Shiner black eye comes with remarkably detailed instructions…

1. Remove from the wax paper.  Put over the right eye only, using a mirror if possible to get proper location.  (I suppose mirror use might be impossible during a post-nuclear holocaust.)

2. Eye should be pasted to wax paper again after using so that the adhesive tape will not stick to box. (I love how this reads like a Good Housekeeping for tricksters.)

3. When gauze and adhesive tape become soiled put on clean bandages — ordinary gauze and adhesive tape.  (Anyone who used their Shiner to the extent that they had to replace the bandages deserves some sort of über-prankster’s medal of honor.)

Skeleton Ad

Replica Skeleton
Plastic skeletons aren’t often taken this seriously, but this one has a surprisingly large selection of marketing tiers…

Kit ($1.25 each): Strictly for the consumer with enough time to assemble a replica skeleton, primarily the unemployable and angry loners.

Kit with plastic display case included ($2.00 each): For praise-seekers with idle hands.

Assembled complete in case ($3.00): For those who think “I didn’t have to assemble my own skeleton, so why should I bother with this plastic one?”

Vital Organs ($1.25 each): When you start adding vital organs to the mix you’re no longer in skeleton territory. That, my friend, is an out-and-out corpse.

Kirk Demarais

Click here for larger versions of the pictures above!

Kirk is also the author of Secret Fun Blog and Life of the Party.

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  1. I love your stuff, I wish I could collect it all. Great article on Pico. I used to sneak into my mom and dads closet and check out the gag gifts they received from friends and many look like they came from Pico.

    Keep up the great work.


  2. This may be a fine point, but wouldn’t the plastic toilet melt if someone got an ash on it? I mean, I don’t want to pay top dollar for an ass-tray and have my pot covered with unsightly cigarette melts because careless people didn’t take the time to place their ashes _around_ it rather than in it or on it. I mean, it’s open, you know some joker is going to put the hot ash right in the bowl there and ruin it for everyone.

    I’m just sayin’

  3. I actually have one of those Hip Nips. I found it in a thrift store years ago – box and all – and wondered who would have put something like that out. Now I know.

  4. Did not know there was also a Hot Nip! http://www.alleewillis.com/blog/2009/07/15/allee-willis-kitsch-o-the-day-hot-nip-and-hip-nip-plastic-flasks/.

    I am learning so much about a world I only glanced at before.

  5. @Casey I would like nothing more than to go through your mom and dad’s closet with you.

    @docweasel Great point. There are two people in that scenario that I’d like to punch in the jaw. The guy who engineered the prank and the joker who threw the lit cigarette in the plastic toilet.

    @Ryan since you own one you are invited to our annual Hip Nip owner’s convention. Fill up your Nip with whatever you’d like and just show up. And wear a purple bow tie.

    @Shawn Robare Good find! Yes, that’s what happened to me, first my sense of nostalgia went back to my childhood, then at some point it crossed over to before I was born. Now it’s all just one big wonderworld.

  6. How come, “Grandpa’s Tinkle Potty,” didn’t make the list? Different catalog? Fer chrissakes, it made flushing noises when one pressed a plunger switch! You can’t BUY technology like THAT anymore!

  7. Pico Novelties on South Los Angeles Street was one of the first places I visited when I was getting into the novelty business in Los Angeles in the early 70s. It was run by a really old fellow named Harry.

    The office was a mess, with stuff piled everywhere. Harry had an exclusive at that time on at original “tip & strip” pens that were made in Denmark. These were the good ones that really worked. There were knock-offs from Hong Kong but they were junk. If you wanted an effective tip & strip effect, you had to pay the price and get the good Danish ones from Harry.

    While most of what he carried was made in Japan, Taiwan or Hong Kong, Harry was the only importer I ever encountered who never left the United States. Not once. I think he was afraid of flying.

  8. From now on, it’s ONLY Danish tip & strips for me!

    Pico Novelty in LA in the 1970s sounds like a slice of heaven. Those three nouns in the same sentence is enough to give me bittersweet daydreams of a world I’ll never know.

    Thanks for another glimpse of your insight Mark!

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