Freebies | Page 52 | Newberry


I’ve been sorting the records again. We have somebody’s Cleo Laine collection, which I was cheerfully sorting into the Jazz box when I had to pause. Is that really the place for Cleo Laine singing Schoenberg? Does nobody in the record industry consider the needs of Book Fair managers when they come up with these things?

I also came across someone’s collection of flexidiscs. Now there, prunepit pudding, is a dead technology. For those of you born since the funeral, a flexidisc was like a record, usually recorded at 33 1/3 but generally the size of a 45, but was printed on a thin sheet of plastic. It could be bent, within reason, and still play, so it could be included in record club offers or bound inside books. It represented, for a dozen years, the height of mailable sound recordings.

The person who gave me this bunch started to take it all back. “You don’t really want these, I suppose,” she said, “I got them free, so how could they be worth anything?”

The words “You don’t really want these” always make my nostrils twitch. Just as a matter of fact, a whole little world of flexidisc collecting has sprung up, especially for some of the odder items: advertising promos meant only for those within an industry, or pop singles that came on the backs of cereal boxes, or (I’ll think of the name of it in a moment) that magazine that exploited the technology by having every third page be a flexidisc that expanded on or illustrated an article.

In fact, there is a whole world of freebie collecting. Somebody once gave us a small box containing all the Cracker Jack prizes they’d had as a child, which threw me into a new field of research. (The metal ones are better than the plastic ones.) A number of charities used to send out little premiums to get you to donate; forty years later, those are pop culture treasures. Those comic books that used to come free inside cereal boxes, or with a pair of shoes….

Hey, in fact, if anybody out there happened to go to a kids’ matinee at a theater in Boston in the fall of 1939 and picked up a copy of Motion Picture Funnies Weekly, I surely purely wouldn’t mind if you donated it to the Newberry. See, a lot of people look for a copy of a newsstand comic book called Marvel Comics #1, which appeared that fall for 10 cents and now costs many thousand times that, because it contains the origin stories of the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner. It threw the comic book universe into a tiny tizzy when an estate turned up an experimental freebie comic book called Motion Picture Funnies Weekly, published a couple of months earlier. There was the Human Torch story. The comics giveaway didn’t catch on, and apparently no movie theaters ever actually gave it away except MAYBE one in Boston. So if you….

Anyway, you see the whole theory. People through the years thought, “I got this for free; it’s worth nothing”, and threw it away. So now those premiums are terrifically rare. That’s why I’m going to start selling old Newberry Library Book Fair bookmarks on eBay. I may even throw in a box of Cracker Jacks. 

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