A July 1, 2016 Atlas Obscura article examined "The Strange Perils of Running a Novelty Item Empire". Well worth reading
in its entirety, here's an excerpt about unexpected problems with reselling macerated currency. -Editor
Handerpants, underwear for your hands! The internet's favorite horse head mask! The librarian action figure with “Amazing Shushing
Seattle’s Archie McPhee is one of the largest and oldest novelty designers and manufacturers in America, providing the average Joe with
items that seem like they were designed in some other dimension where the laws of practicality and common sense no longer apply. They have
a long, colorful history of bringing weird and unfathomable items to an unsuspecting world. But it’s not all screaming pickles and wind-up
teeth. Running one of the most successful novelty operations in the world can lead to some pretty bizarre disasters.
The company was founded around 1983 by curio aficionado Mark Pahlow, who would list strange, cool, often useless items in colorful
mail-order catalogs. In the beginning, he would find bizarre items like acupuncture dummies and resell them explicitly as novelties to
other outlets, such as head shops. As the business grew, Pahlow began importing odd items from manufacturers overseas whose warehouses he
would visit to shop for oddities.
The store bought a couple of pallets of shredded money that had been destroyed by the U.S. Treasury. It came to them on pallets wrapped
in plastic, simply a huge mound of shredded money, and Wahl was tasked with writing it up for the catalog. Among the uses he whimsically
suggested for the product included using it to start a fire or buying a lot of it and trying to glue it back together again. But these are
specifically some of the things you are NOT allowed to do with shredded money, according to federal rules, and after not too long, the
Secret Service paid them a visit, guns and all.
“They let us know, in no uncertain terms, that we were not allowed to sell shredded money for any of those purposes,” says Wahl. “They
also specifically said that they were afraid the Iranians were going to buy all our shredded money, and try and destroy our financial
system by flooding it.”
As it turns out, you can only sell shredded money as a novelty within a strict set of guidelines, including keeping the amount less than
one dollar bill and encasing it in tamper-resistant packaging, like a clear plastic keychain. And with no easy way to repackage and sell
the bales of destroyed cash, it simply sat in their warehouse, which is when the real problem started.
“One of the things you don’t know about money is that it is covered in human skin,” says Wahl. “So as it gets hot out, it basically
starts smelling like human flesh.” The stench of the dead, rotting skin was overpowering, and any time the shredded money had to be dealt
with, workers had to wear ventilator masks and gloves. Eventually, they were able to sell the reeking bails back to the original buyer at a
To read the complete article, see:
The Strange Perils of Running a Novelty
Item Empire (www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-strange-perils-of-running-a-novelty-item-empire)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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