I’m Not Buying It: The Worst Hammacher Schlemmer Catalog Items [Guest Post]

Editor’s Note: Once upon a time, there was a renegade website called Randomtitle.com that featured a number of present ROTI contributors, and ruled a shady corner of the Internet until it was shut down by the Department of Homeland Security. One of the brave souls who toiled on that site was Vicious Rumors, whose best work for Randomtitle included a comprehensive takedown of the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. Although his past work has passed into the digital ether, VR returns in 2012 to analyze the best and most ridiculous items sold by the venerable retailer.

The Hammacher Schlemmer Company is a well-regarded retailer with operations dating back to the mid-19th century. It has evolved over the years to become the world’s foremost dealer in eccentricities, high-priced curios, and unnecessary assemblages of plastic and LED lights. To be sure, their inventory does contain many useful items such as VHS-to-DVD converters and wearable tents — but for every brilliant construct of human ingenuity, you’ll discover a woefully misguided tchotchke permanently staining the company’s good name like vomit upon a fine Persian rug. For example, while they do sell a flying car — which none can deny is a must-have item — the awkwardly-named Traveler’s Bed Bug Thwarting Sleeping Cocoon stands as an embarrassing, unforgivable affront to good taste.

For precisely this reason, a trip to their online store yields delights and sorrows alike. You can marvel at the audacity of something like a $350,000 flying car being listed in a catalog, or wonder exactly why valuable textiles are being used to make legions of The 6 Foot Award Winning Ugly Doll when there is probably a homeless orphan in Haiti who needs a pillow. You can exult in the joys of watching a remote controlled bald eagle soar over purple mountains majesty to a Pure Moods soundtrack, or cry in disbelief when you discover someone has skinned an American buffalo to make a wallet.

And for those who enjoy a little color in their product descriptions, even a little history, many of the items are written with a highly-enjoyable, pedantic flair. Consider the following nuggets:

“Invented in 225 A.D. by mechanical engineer Ma Jun during the Three Kingdoms period, the chariot’s differential gearing system provided solitary cardinal direction centuries before the magnetic compass. Romantically known as the “South Pointing Chariot,” it is considered by antiquarians as one of Ancient China’s most complex inventions.”

“This is the recumbent bicycle born from the rich cycling tradition of the Netherlands, renowned for its country-wide network of cycling paths that spans from Maastricht to Friesland. Hand made in Dronten in the Flevoland province of the Netherlands from customized anodized aluminum parts, it is solidly constructed and precisely balanced, having endured adventurous ascents up to Switzerland’s famous Simplon Pass.”

“Celtic knots have decorated Irish art since the early middle ages, such as the Book of Kells, while the Scottish thistle is thought to have been adopted as the country’s national emblem in the 13th century after a misstep by a barefoot, invading Viking.”

If you dedicate yourself to studying this catalog, it is quite possible that in a single night you could both master World History and renounce your citizenship as an American consumer in utter shame. The homegoods of antiquity, the apparel of quaint Medieval fishing villages, the modern inessential bauble and the extravagant toys of the future are all for sale within the pages of Hamm Schlemm. Some are affordable to the average consumer, and some only to Richard Branson, but it’s doubtful even he would buy any of this stuff, and he owns a fleet of dirigibles, for God’s sake.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the more egregious wares for sale.

The Pirate Ship Playhouse – $27,000

Own the town’s biggest eyesore for the price of two Kias. Can you imagine what your Homeowner’s Association would say if they saw this horrifying abomination in your back yard? Watch your spoiled kids scramble all over this monstrosity while praying the screws hold tight lest your daughter be smashed under six tons of cedar, redwood, and Douglas fir.

The ship stands nearly two stories high, affording your children and any roving perverts a perfect view of your bedroom from the safety of the crow’s nest. Ahoy, why is Mom straddling the postman?! The only people who ought to consider buying this are those who inhabit the Mississippi River Delta and might need a stylish escape-dinghy for the next flood.

Read more of this post

%d bloggers like this: