The gag books were made by a small group of small companies founded by immigrant entrepreneurs. "Fun's Henry Ford" was Sam Adams, born in Denmark and reared in New Jersey. You can read all about him in this Popular Science article from 1955, as well as see a picture of a worker making the famous exploding books. (By the way, check out page 169 for instructions on how to have a coat hanger party, so crazy.) In addition to the exploding books, Adams was responsible for the hand buzzer and Cachoo Sneezing Powder. Adams' exploding books are altered books, with a tiny mouse trap fitted inside a cut-out in the text block. The trap could be loaded with common caps. When the book was loaded, it could be shown to an unsuspecting friend, who would open it and jump three feet in the air. Those I have seen have risqué illustrations and titles applied over the original covers, to temp the reader. Although Adams popularized exploding books in the late 1930s, similar novelty exploding books were made as early at 1909. I recently acquired one and may show it later.
|This is Eve's Surprise, from my collection.|
|The made-up title on this exploding book is Influence of Nudism on Our Infant Industries (Illustrated). Another is Eve's Surprise.|
|Here is Eve's Surprise open, so you can see the explosive device with the cap inside.|
|I believe this is probably an Adams snake book, but it isn't signed or dated. The books came in different sizes, colors and decorative papers.|
Below is another snake book from my collectin. Its title is Souvenir of Atlantic City and is quite small, only a few inches tall. The snake-popping mechanism is different from the one above.
This isn't my copy, as I don't have the box, which is wonderful and very informative as it indicates the exploding book was issued in numerous titles for different purposes.
The last category I'd like to show is what is known as the punchline book, because it is a visual joke. The most prolific manufacturer of these was H. Fishlove and Co. of New York City. They certainly were geared towards men and are in pretty bad taste, so you have to look at them with an open mind in order to appreciate their humor. They would definitely be considered to be politically incorrect in today's world. Like the exploding books, they were made from altered books with new cover labels, cut-out text blocks and inserted punchline scenes. The word that comes to mind when I look at them is raunchy, but I love them just the same for their brazen bookishness.
|The paper labels on the punchline books were applied over many books of the same general size, so each is different, although it's an edition.|
|All of the punchline books have 3-D and even pop-up objects inside, with printed cartoon-like backgrounds.|