The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions is a book of pranking devices by New Yorker cartoonist and freelance illustrator Julia Suits. Twenty years ago Julia came across a fascinating printed piece of Americana at an Ohio farm auction, a unique prank supply catalog from the DeMoulin Brothers Company. From 1896 to 1930, the DeMoulin Brothers Company manufactured prank devices that were used in various initiation ceremonies at fraternal lodges. This book shows “hundreds of the most inventive DeMoulin prank machines, complete with their original, quirky descriptions and eccentric line art” along with a history of hazing in America.
Ms. Suits has posted a sneak preview slideshow of the book’s art on Salon.
It was as if Buster Keaton and Harry Houdini took over Montgomery Ward and branched out into “weird.” Each page was wonderfully illustrated and each was stranger than the one before. The contraptions listed were designed to perform some kind of devilish prank: a life-sized stuffed goat on wheels wired to shock the rider, a mechanical spitting skeleton, an exploding spanking machine.
Turns out, various editions of this prank supply catalog were printed from 1896 to 1930, mailed from their source in Illinois to fraternal lodges around the country. Their creators were America’s original hi-tech geeks of the new electric age. Too wonderful to remain buried by history, I’ve labored to get these Extraordinary Catalogs of Peculiar Inventions back in print (thanks to Perigee/Penguin) as an important piece of Americana.
Footage of early 20th century fraternal lodge electric shock initiation device: “Human Centipede or Nightmare,” probably constructed of canvas, filled with excelsior.