|While rummaging through the attic, I came across my old comic book collection, circa the 1950s, and as I thumbed through the silverfish-nibbled copies they brought back some nostalgic memories.
If you think folks today are suckers for telemarketers and late-night TV ads offering knives that never dull and exercise machines guaranteed to make you look like the aerobics instructor who’s hawking them, you should have been a kid growing up in my generation.
We were suckers for any advertisement in a comic book. Would the Lone Ranger and the Phantom steer us wrong?
Colorful full-page ads gushed about how we could win “Exciting, Easy Prizes!” by peddling a company’s particular product, from greeting cards to garden seeds.
Some of the most enticing ads involved salves and balms guaranteed to cure what ails you – from bunions to bellyaches.
The more stuff you sold, the more valuable prizes you were eligible for.
The Wilson Chemical Company, for example, said you could earn “a real, live pony for your very own!”
The pony was part of a dazzling array of prizes that included an archery set, BB gun, ice skates, astronomical telescope, record player, guitar, baseball glove, wagon, football, Hopalong Cassidy Trail Knife, and Genuine Speedster bicycle, all brilliantly illustrated and designed to make a 10-year-old drool in his Ovaltine.
All you had to do was send in the convenient coupon. The company would mail you 14 jars of White Cloverine Brand Salve, and you were on your way.
Once you sold your initial allotment of 14 jars at 50 cents a pop, you would send the cash to the company and receive more jars.
The ad was a trifle vague about how many jars, exactly, you had to sell to get a pony. But at 50 cents a jar, how hard could it be?
I mailed in the convenient coupon and in a couple of weeks a box containing 14 jars of Cloverine Salve arrived in the mail.
I couldn’t wait to get started.
I mean literally.
I ran into the house and made my first sale to my mom.
Then I raced next door and Miss Cole, a retired teacher, also forked over two quarters for a can of Cloverine.
I began thinking about what I’d name my pony.
But then it got a little tougher.
The Lanes up the street said no thanks, they had all the salve they needed right now, but I could check back later. (I got the hint – later, as in the next decade.)
I got the same polite turn-down by the Smiths, the Wattenbargers and the Buttrams.
Old man Mullins wanted to know if I had any rheumatism medicine.
Next day I sold a jar to my Grandma Harriett and another to Aunt Flo.
That made four sales. I still had 10 jars left, and my sales route was tapped out.
I asked my dad what to do, this being my first venture into the world of sales and finance.
He told me to send the Wilson Chemical Company the $2 I’d earned, along with the 10 unsold jars of Cloverine. I did, paying the return postage out of my piggy bank.
It was a harsh early lesson – don’t get suckered into something by slick, fancy advertising and the lure of get-rich-quick schemes.
You seldom win the pony.