It’s not all screaming pickles and wind-up teeth.
July 6, 2016 8:26 AM   Subscribe

The Strange Perils of Running a Novelty Item Empire: Seattle’s Archie McPhee is one of the largest and oldest novelty designers and manufacturers in America, providing the average Joe with items that seem like they were designed in some other dimension where the laws of practicality and common sense no longer apply. They have a long, colorful history of bringing weird and unfathomable items to an unsuspecting world. But it’s not all screaming pickles and wind-up teeth. Running one of the most successful novelty operations in the world can lead to some pretty bizarre disasters.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (46 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
My takeaway from an otherwise amusing article: holy shit, the US government is hella paranoid.
posted by Kitteh at 8:37 AM on July 6, 2016 [10 favorites]


Thanks to McPhee, I am the proud owner of two authentic fallout shelter signs and a set of glass urine sample flasks I serve booze in. Thank "Bob" for this seriously off kilter company.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:38 AM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


My takeaway from an otherwise amusing article: holy shit, the US government is hella paranoid.

Really that's nice because my takeaway was that money is covered in human skin

hurlhurlhurlhurl (repeat until deceased)
posted by Don Pepino at 8:40 AM on July 6, 2016 [15 favorites]


Handerpants

I'll add that to the list of things I never knew I needed.
posted by wabbittwax at 8:40 AM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nothing more life-affirming than opening up the Archie McPhee homepage and seeing two items for sale that you already own.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 8:44 AM on July 6, 2016 [9 favorites]


God forbid the Iranians get hold of our wooden-dummy-torpedo technology.
posted by emjaybee at 8:46 AM on July 6, 2016 [7 favorites]


As the proud owner of a number of Archie McPhee artefacts (including tiki espresso cups I use for my morning coffee and a devil-horned rubber duck) I picked up on a visit to Seattle about a decade ago, I'm heartened to hear that they're still around. I was worried that, with them being in Seattle, Amazon would have done them in, one way or another.
posted by acb at 8:50 AM on July 6, 2016


I love Archie McPhee. They published, and continued to publish for several years, a letter I wrote to them in praise after I ordered a set of Monster Women figures when I was 12, using birthday money. It was the first website I sought out for myself when my dad got internet at work circa 1994. I blew a portion of my first paycheck on Archie McPhee in college.

That said, I was much more likely to buy something from them when their product line was mostly actual surplus/weird items of unknown origin, rather than trend items skirting the edge of the actually weird. American Science and Surplus now fills that need for me. But McPhee is still a go-to for holidays because I am only good at finding two kinds of presents: 1) weird toys and random crap and 2) books. So I thank them for that.
posted by blnkfrnk at 9:09 AM on July 6, 2016 [7 favorites]


“If life’s a cupcake," he says, "we make the frosting.”

Look, Archie, let's be honest here. If life is a cupcake, the frosting is a very essential part of that. Like, something that a person couldn't live without. You don't make that. The things you make are the bits and pieces of broken sprinkles in the bottom of the cupcake box.
posted by oulipian at 9:11 AM on July 6, 2016 [10 favorites]


I love American Science and Surplus. That is a dangerous place for me. And god forbid they email me a coupon.
posted by not that girl at 9:12 AM on July 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


I fail to see how a lunchbox could not be used to hold biohazardous materials.

(joke about your mom's lunches here)
posted by Naberius at 9:18 AM on July 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Really that's nice because my takeaway was that money is covered in human skin

There might be a few stray flakes of dead skin cells in all that cash, but the real issue involves the microbial colonies [safe for work] residing within our fingerprints, palms and beneath our fingernails that thrive and flourish on dollar bills (which are "paper" crafted from cotton and linen fibers). The festering which occurred is no different from what would happen if you kept some old sweaty clothing in a place where it wouldn't be damp enough to gain mildew, but still permit the grime and filth to become intolerable.
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:19 AM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I appreciate your explanation, Smart Dalek, which makes more sense than the idea that there is so much human skin accreted on used money that a pile of shredded cash is more-or-less the equivalent of a rotting corpse.
posted by not that girl at 9:30 AM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Not to derail, but am I the only one who is really tired of this new-ish writing fad where you list three things, each with an exclamation point after it? I see it everywhere.

Newish fad! List three things! Annoy Clustercuss!
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:39 AM on July 6, 2016 [13 favorites]


[topsecret] Souvenirs! Novelties! Parrrty tricks! [/topsecret]

What phony dog poop?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:57 AM on July 6, 2016 [10 favorites]


Is it new? Really? Are you sure?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:59 AM on July 6, 2016


I used to enjoy the bizarre items at Archie McPhee, but lately it's all products made in China.
posted by Carol Anne at 10:30 AM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


The gman overt caution stuff doesn't surprise me at all. Once I was chatting with coworkers over lunch at a local Thai place about interesting military tech that was being worked on, nothing classified, all findable on military tech blogs and marketing videos by the companies themselves on YouTube. Just a bunch of engineers talking engineer. Out of nowhere this big serious guy leans over next to me and whispers, if you can call such an intensely delivered statement a whisper, "I work for the DoD and I need you and your friends to stop discussing these matters" and then he was gone, leaving me to explain to the whole table why I turned white.

These components of our government do NOT err on the side of caution.
posted by JauntyFedora at 10:34 AM on July 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Back in the 80s, I bought a "gallon of tiny treasures," that was mostly gumball machine prizes all poured into a clear plastic jug. I kept that on my desk at work for a long time, and people would constantly stop by just to see what they'd pull out of it. It seems that Archie McPhee doesn't offer that anymore. Sad.
posted by xingcat at 10:37 AM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


"I work for the DoD and I need you and your friends to stop discussing these matters"

Likely because he wasn't allowed to know some of that stuff, and would need to explain why he did.
posted by schmod at 10:57 AM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Unless the article is omitting some details, the government's lack of regard for the 4th Amendment is pretty jarring.
posted by schmod at 10:58 AM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Writing ad copy for the American Science and Surplus catalog is my dream job.
posted by yhbc at 11:09 AM on July 6, 2016


I've had the pleasure of visiting American Science and Surplus's physical stores and they are both amazing. Every price label is hand drawn and written and as I was happily gawking at everything I realized they were playing a song from the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack. "These are my people," I sighed happily.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:37 AM on July 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Señor Misterioso™, who is watching me type this, approves of this post.
posted by tommasz at 11:39 AM on July 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Given the supposed restrictions on the sale of shredded money, I'm surprised that multiple locations of Ax-Man Surplus will sell it to you by the (fairly large) bag from the (admittedly stinky) barrels of it that they have lying around.

I've considered buying some for novelty gift packaging purposes, but the smell (and what I generally know about where money has been) has always turned me off.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:00 PM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Back in the '90's (that was like so looong ago, right kids?) I bought the fabled Shushing Librarian action figure and to this day, Mini-Nancy Peart, one of my personal superheroes, takes proud center place on my work/circulation desk with other little library and reading tchotchkes.
posted by Lynsey at 12:24 PM on July 6, 2016


So, shredded currency is much more interesting topic than I had expected!:

You can buy 5lb bags of shredded currency from the Treasury, and the list of restrictions does not include burning it (though you have to promise to follow EPA and local rules for disposal).

The 5lb bags are production defects though, and were never monetized (or innoculated with delicious human skin bacteria). Which let's be honest, is no fun at all.

It is however possible to contract with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to purchase the entire year's "production" of post-circulation shredded bills from one of the federal reserve banks:
The Federal Reserve System destroys worn currency notes at some of its various banks located throughout the country. Shredded currency is available only from certain Federal Reserve Banks. They sell it only under contract to buyers who will purchase the entire residue for at least a one year period. It is not readily available for distribution or for sale in small quantities to individuals because of operational difficulties and excessive administrative work for Federal Reserve Banks. Source.
This Motherboard article links to a Scribd archive of the results of a FOIA request for information about the people who request shredded money for various reasons.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:25 PM on July 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


Out of nowhere this big serious guy leans over next to me and whispers, if you can call such an intensely delivered statement a whisper, "I work for the DoD and I need you and your friends to stop discussing these matters" and then he was gone, leaving me to explain to the whole table why I turned white.

These components of our government do NOT err on the side of caution.


Or he could have been just some dude fucking with you. Or maybe he worked at the DoD but was a lowly clerk with delusions of grandeur.
posted by emjaybee at 1:15 PM on July 6, 2016 [7 favorites]


I remember that money! Archie McPhee was one of my wish books when I was a kid. I wanted to try piecing the money together, but then, around that age, I got a little magic "roller press" that was supposed to "print" a dollar in the full expectation that a $5 gadget from Toys R Us would actually print dollar bills for me. For a smart kid, I was impressively stupid.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:07 PM on July 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure I will ever be able to bring myself to touch cash again.
posted by sarcasticah at 3:13 PM on July 6, 2016


Chattering teeth still mystify.
posted by clavdivs at 4:12 PM on July 6, 2016


Separate from their product-selling website, McPhee has a blog, The Geyser of Awesome, which mixes their latest products with a lot of 'awesome stuff found on the web' they aren't selling. One of the highlights of my RSS reader.

I thank the Archie McPhee corporation for providing me with reasonably priced versions (under $10) of a red fez, a rubber chicken and an ample supply of stick-on googly eyes. I don't know how I would afford to let my freak flag as well as it does without them.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:19 PM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: it's not all screaming pickles
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:41 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


“If life’s a cupcake," he says, "we make the frosting.”

I question the premise of your argument.
Re. the skin-on-money thing - that's because US money is like half cloth or something, right? Our nice shiny plastic Australian money just sheds other people's skin right? Right?

Edit: Ah, not skin. Just colonies of microbes.
posted by quinndexter at 5:43 PM on July 6, 2016


I personally will forever mourn whatever day that was in the mid-'90s when Archie McPhee went from being the nation's foremost purveyors of unintentional camp to resigning themselves to manufacturing intentional camp.
posted by eschatfische at 5:45 PM on July 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: If life's a cupcake, we make the frosting.

Still a questionable premise.
posted by quinndexter at 5:56 PM on July 6, 2016


Metafilter: Still a Questionable Premise.
posted by quinndexter at 5:57 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Please help me I think I have a condition.
posted by quinndexter at 5:57 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: not skin, just colonies of microbes.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:31 PM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


I found one of those Nun/Thacher puppets in my attic a couple of weeks ago, think My ex bought in in the late 80's.
posted by boilermonster at 10:23 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I did not expect that article to be so scary and gross.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:57 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can hardly wait for the day that Iran tries to take us over with their wooden torpedoes and glued-together shredded five-dollar-bills.
posted by briank at 8:54 AM on July 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


Or he could have been just some dude fucking with you. Or maybe he worked at the DoD but was a lowly clerk with delusions of grandeur.

Totally possible, but it was near to several large Aerospace companies, and something about the brusque delivery made me think he was either totally legit or completely insane.
posted by JauntyFedora at 2:35 PM on July 7, 2016


Unless the article is omitting some details, the government's lack of regard for the 4th Amendment is pretty jarring.

This
is the thing that made you realize the gov't doesn't take the 4th Amendment seriously? Really?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:41 PM on July 7, 2016


My first trip to Archie McPhee was probably the most satisfying single shopping experience I've ever had. I was fifteen and a huuuuge Residents fan and bought dozens of bits of random eyeball paraphernalia. The receipt I got at the end was so long I kept it as a souvenir.
posted by town of cats at 12:43 AM on July 8, 2016


I used to go to the original shop on Stoneway in the 1990s, back before they made their own stuff. Back then they advertised themselves as "Novelty coffee shop and modern-day tiki hut" or something like that.

Back then everything was factory seconds and carefully-scored rubbish. I remember at one point they were trying hard to push these porcelain hands that were clearly originally used for moulding rubber safety gloves.

I had a copy of their catalogue, which was a lot like a 'zine of the era, including fan fiction for the weird/disturbing alarm clocks they named "Bebo" and "Lucky Boy". I went in to shop and recognised the clocks from the catalogue. The woman behind the desk rolled her eyes and told me not to buy one, because I'd regret it after finding out how annoying they were. I never did find out how they ended up with the things in the first place.

I went back several years ago to their new Ballard shop (holy cow, where did all the Swedish pensioners go?) and found it an anodyne blister-pack experience. It's just force-extruded deliberate whimsy hung on pegs, now. I walked out for the first time without buying so much as a coffee, which they no longer sell.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:56 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


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