Friday, March 21, 2014

Word of the day: novelty


[Henry, March 13, 2014.]

You don’t see novelty shops so much anymore. When I was a boy, “toys and novelties” were staples of my consumer life, found in what was called a variety store. You don’t see variety stores so much either.

The Oxford English Dictionary dates the word novelty to c. 1384: “Something new, not previously experienced, unusual, or unfamiliar; a novel thing.” The meaning of the word as I knew it (or sort of knew it) dates from 1840: “An often useless or trivial but decorative or amusing object, esp. one relying for its appeal on the newness of its design. Also (in later use): spec. a small inexpensive toy or trinket. Freq. in pl. ”

The novelties that first come to my mind: the sliding box that turned one coin into another, the folding gadget that made a dollar bill disappear, and Wriggley’s Gum. These days, the word novelties often refers to very different merchandise, for grown-ups only.

Here, from 2010, is a photograph of what was said to be New York City’s last novelty shop. Joke items, anyone?

comments: 7

Anonymous said...

A novel tea would be a novelty, o brother monk. Thelonious, of course. For groan ups, moan-ly. Joke items, each and any won.

Diane Schirf said...

I hadn't been here, but a famous Chicago novelty shop closed recently.

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-01-09/entertainment/chi-fans-mourn-uncle-fun-closing-in-chicago-20140109-15_1_ted-frankel-uncle-fun-1338-w

Michael Leddy said...

And they even had disappearing ink.

Stefan said...

That's terrible news about Uncle Fun's, Diane. When we lived in Chicago and our nieces and nephew were young, it was a regular stop ahead of Christmas. It would be hard to say whether the sale items or the customers were the greater novelty.

Adair said...

I remember joy-buzzers and cans full of "snakes" that sprang out when opened. Novelty and variety shops also sold those fascinating little plastic submarines that would dive and resurface when loaded with baking soda.

journaljim said...

Dallas & Co. is still going strong here in Champaign. Owned and operated by performing magician, Andy Dallas, the store has magic tricks, joke items, and such. They also have a very large costume and party supply inventory which, no doubt, subsidizes the novelties. It's a wonderful place to visit in Champaign-Urbana.

Michael Leddy said...

I haven’t been there for years, but it was our family’s go-to store for all our fake-poop needs. I should go again.