6 Get-Rich-Quick Schemes From Vintage Comic Books

A lot of ads in old comic books just wanted your money. You send in the cash; you get the low-quality novelty toy that will teach you an important lesson about trusting anyone who purports to sell you alien technology that can see through ladies' clothes. But there were other ads in those old comic books, placed by companies who wanted you to give them other people’s money. All you had to do was hit the pavement and sell their products door to door. In return you’d get money, prizes, and a start in the business world. Usually.

1. Engravaplates

Identity theft was harder to accomplish in the 1970s. So much so that people might actually want to carry around a metal plate with the numerical key to their entire life engraved on it. That was the hope behind the Cardinal Sales Inc. trademarked “Engravaplates.”

Customers would be “amazed and delighted” to discover the plates only cost $2, “especially when they discover they also get a Smart Carrying Case, and ID card, and an exclusive 10-Year-Calander – All Free!”  Best of all, as the all-important middle man in this transaction, you would keep one dollar of every sale. Think how that adds up! “Take as many as 10 or more orders in an hour, and make as much as $10 or more in every spare hour you devote to showing the sample plate.”

Engravaplate maintained its 1972 trademark an impressively long time for a third-person novelty sales object, until 1995. And they didn't limit their sales pool to adolescents, putting much simpler ads in Field & Stream, Popular Mechanics, and Ebony magazines.

2. Sunshine Studio Cards

Sunshine Studios Inc. (a stationery company founded in 1951 that appears to still exist) managed to stuff a lot of manipulative sleight of hand onto a single page of a 1973 copy of “Secret Romance.” Are you smart enough to pass our test? (Psh. YES.) Because we’ll give* you a lot of money if you can. (Money? Now you’ve really pulled my attention away from my copy of Tiger Beat with Erik Estrada and Scott Baio on the cover.) Seriously girls, people will buy these personalized Christmas cards from you, because they’d cost twice as much in a store. (Omigod that is such a bargain!) “All you have to do is show these cards to people you know. The cards sell themselves.”

Just show the cards. And be prepared, as avarice and desire cloud the faces of your loved ones while they whisper in dry voices, “I must have them,” pushing cash and heirloom jewelry into your hands. Sign me up!

*We will not give you any money.

3. SLC Personalized Christmas Card

Oh, Sunshine Studios Inc., you are a crafty minx. You were the parent company of many “children-shilling-stationery” programs under many names, including the Sales Leadership Club, a popular way for kids to try to earn awesome prizes clear into the '90s. Again, the game was selling personalized Christmas cards, but a slightly different twist was used to lure the younger readers of Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery and Boys' Life. Forget the cash. Look at the STUFF! Whatever your penchant, you can earn enough money to indulge it, from rocket kits to professional-style hair dryers.

And, even more delightfully, SLC was totally on the level, and remained a member of the Better Business Bureau from the '50s to the '90s. With a little hustle, you really stood a chance of winning that Deluxe Two Band Radio. 

4. Grit Magazine

As a fervent student of history, it leaves me gob smacked that I had never heard of Grit. Because when they tell their potential salesboys that they are America’s Greatest Family Newspaper, they weren’t flim-flamming. Grit was founded by a German immigrant named Dietrick Lamade in 1885. That fact alone isn’t so surprising until it is combined with the fact the Grit still exists! Both online and in published form, it enjoys a hearty circulation among American’s rural inhabitants, as it has for nearly 130 years.

Entrepreneurship wasn’t the only challenge the Lamades offered the young men of America; one of Lamade’s sons was a top executive in the Little League Baseball association. The Lamades contributed liberally to making Little League a national institution, which in turn gave them a healthy pool of recruits to sell their newspaper to its intended small town readers.

Grit was very popular; one reason was because it was not a “real” newspaper. It was Lamade’s business practice to never include any news that would depress or drain hope from his readers, and his pages were packed with comics, stories, and amusing human interest, with a special focus on rural living. Seven cents profit per copy might have not been a bad deal for such a well-received product. 

5. American Seed Company

Gather round and hear the tale of an American tragedy. So … did YOU sell American Seed Company seed packets in your neighborhood when you were young? If so, perhaps you are one of the guilty. The American Seed Company operated a business dynamic with its adolescent salespeople that, while seeming quite unsound by today’s standards, served them well for decades. The child would send in for the seed packs, sell them, send back all the money, and earn a nice prize, like a badminton set, or a pocket calculator. But between 1975 and 1981, 400,000 children sent away for seed packages and never sent any money back. Because why should they? They could just keep the money, and The American Seed Company could go pound salt. So, in 1981, the company went out of business, bilked out of existence by the earliest tides of a cynical, grungy Generation X.

6. Olympic Sales Club

Oh sure, it’s greeting cards again. But if the Facebook fan page is any judge, Olympic treated their little minions pretty well. They advertised more and better prizes than their competitors, filling every square inch of ad space they could spare with drawings of (often name brand) loot, from Huffy Motocross Bikes (sell 64 boxes of cards) to the Deluxe Uno Card Game (just 7 boxes!).

Eventually, Olympic Sales became Olympia Sales, and according to Kelly, who answered the phone at Olympia, they stopped having kids selling door to door around seven years ago: “It’s just the age we live in, you know? No one wants their kids selling door to door.” Olympia still produces cards, but now only for wholesale to distributors.

There is good news for the parents and grandparents who successfully earned Pink Panther Radios and Kodak Instant Cameras, and wish their own progeny could have the same experience. Kelly hinted that Olympia might be considering bringing back a form of kid-driven distribution in the future, via internet, which would make it the only sales scheme on our list to keep enterprising kids on the payroll.

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The Old Toy Cars Gathering Dust in Your Attic Could Be Worth a Fortune
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One person's trash is another person's retirement plan. If you've got a box of old toys stashed away in your attic, you could be sitting on a goldmine.

Insurance comparison website GoCompare has put together the below infographic of collectible toy cars that could earn you big bucks if you're willing to part with them. The collectibles are all made by Hot Wheels and Matchbox and are mostly from the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. They range in value from £107 ($141.75) to a whopping £8513 ($11,277.74). The latter price tag belongs to a rare 1961 prototype of Matchbox's Magirus-Deutz Truck, only two of which are believed to exist. (Originally, it was worth less than a buck.)

GoCompare didn't stop at cars: they've also got the financial stats on other childhood toys you could sell for tons of money, including Barbies, Pokémon cards, and LEGOs (sadly, there are no Beanie Babies). Check out their findings below. Here's hoping you have one of these toys to sell so you can put your earnings toward a sweet human-sized ride.

POKÉMON CARDS

Charizard (1st Edition, Base Set): $55,000
Umbreon Gold Star (Pp Series 5): $10,200
Blastoise (1st Edition, Base Set): $9000
Crystal Charizard (Skyridge Holo): $6450
Rayquaza Gold Star (EX Deoxys): $6400

(Prices from 2017 eBay listings. All cards are ones you could reasonably collect. No prize or error cards.)

VIDEO GAMES

Stadium Events (NES): $41,977
Air Raid (Atari 2600): $33,433
Nintendo World Championships (gold): $22,376
Nintendo Campus Challenge: $20,100
Red Sea Crossing (Atari 2600): $13,877

(Prices based on eBay sale data from pricecharting.com and auction figures.)

BARBIE DOLLS

Original Barbie (1959): $23,999
Major Matt Mason (1967): $15,000
#4 Blond Barbie (1960): $8999
Karl Lagerfeld Doll (2014): $6000
American Girl (1966): $3500

(Prices sourced from eBay listings of rare models this year.)

LEGO SETS

Ultimate Collector's Millennium Falcon: $4532
Taj Mahal: $2863
Grand Carousel: $2214
Cafe Corner: $1714
Statue of Liberty: $1699

(Prices sourced from Brickpicker.)

COMIC BOOKS

Action Comics #1 (1938): $3,000,000
Detective Comics #27 (1939): $2,000,000
Superman #1 (1939): $1,000,000
All-American Comics #16 (1940): $747,000
Marvel Comics #1 (1939): $600,000

(Priced in conjunction with comic expert Duncan McAlpine.)

WRESTLING FIGURES

LJN Black Series Macho Man: up to $10,000
Popy Hulk Hogan Rookie Figure: up to $5000
Star Toys Big Boss Man: up to $3000
Hasbro Series Dusty Rhodes: up to $2000
LJN Blue Card Hulk Hogan (White Variant): up to $1500

(Prices sourced from eBay listings of rare models.)

YU-GI-OH! CARDS

Mechanicalchaser: $1600
Blue Eyes White Dragon, Legend of Blue Eyes White Dragon (1st Edition): $1500
Harpie's Feather Duster: $1500
Blue Eyes White Dragon, Dark Duel Stories: $1100
Dark Magician Girl: $1050

(Prices from 2017 eBay listings. All cards are ones you could reasonably collect. No prize or error cards.)

TRANSFORMERS FIGURES

Optimus Prime: $12,000
Computron: $5000
Megatron: $4000
Defensor: $3000
Bumblebee: $2900

(Prices based on sales of mint, sealed figures.)

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLE FIGURES

Scratch the Cat: $1200
Undercover Raphael: $700
Sixth Scale Bebop and Rocksteady: $600
Hotspot: $574
Rocksteady: $495

(Prices based on auction sales.)

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Fizzled Out: Why Coca-Cola Purposely Designed a Soft Drink to Fail
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In December 1992, media outlets from around the country filed into the Hayden Planetarium at New York City's American Museum of Natural History for what soft drink giant Coca-Cola was trumpeting as a “truly out-of-this-world experience.” In front of reporters, the company's North American president, Doug Ivester, unveiled a 16-ounce silver can that he hoped would change the landscape of soda.

The product was Tab Clear, a new version of the sugar- and calorie-free diet drink first introduced in 1963. While it retained its bubbles, the liquid was transparent, an obvious nod to rival Pepsi’s introduction of Crystal Pepsi earlier that year.

Publicly, Ivester boasted that Tab Clear would be yet another success in Coca-Cola’s long history of refreshment dominance. But behind the scenes, Ivester and chief marketing officer Sergio Zyman were convinced Tab Clear would be a failure—and that is exactly what they hoped would happen. Flying in the face of convention, the launch of Tab Clear was deliberately designed to self-destruct.

 
 

In the early 1990s, beverage manufacturers were heavily preoccupied with the idea of clear drinks that communicated a sense of wellness. The Coors company even produced a clear alcoholic malt beverage, Zima, to capitalize on the craze, but porting it over to the soft drink market was nothing new. In the 1940s, Soviet leader Georgy Zhukov used his friendly relationship with the U.S. to make an appeal for Coca-Cola to produce a clear version of their drink so he could enjoy it surreptitiously and without being accused of indulging in a capitalist product; the soda maker removed the caramel from the recipe, which essentially de-pigmented it. Coca-Cola also produced Sprite, a fizzy, lemon-tinged drink that didn’t use coloring.

But it wasn’t until Pepsi unveiled Crystal Pepsi in 1992 that marketing departments began to pay close attention to transparency in their product. Crystal Pepsi was essentially a fruit-flavored variation of regular Pepsi, with all the typical amounts of sugar and calories but no caffeine. That light could pass through the beverage was a novelty, albeit one that Pepsi believed could help them carve out a 2 percent slice of the $48 billion soft drink market. And if Pepsi could do that, it would mean less money for Coca-Cola.

Like a boxer preparing a counter-attack, Coke couldn’t simply sit back and allow Pepsi to strike without retaliation. But few within the company were sold on the longevity of the clear soda craze. Worse, the company had stumbled badly with New Coke in 1985, a new formula intended to replace the classic version that drew public criticism and created a public relations disaster. Tempting fate with a Clear Coke was out of the question.

Zyman had the answer. Before coming to Coke, Zyman had been a director of sales and marketing for Pepsi; he defected to Coca-Cola just in time for the highly successful launch of Diet Coke in 1982. After a sabbatical, Zyman—a notoriously combative executive who earned the nickname the “Aya-Cola” for his management style—returned as chief marketing officer and devised an ingenious plan to stifle Crystal Pepsi without risking the reputation of Coca-Cola Classic. His sacrificial pawn would be Tab.

Sometimes stylized as “TaB," the drink had been introduced in 1963 as an alternative for calorie-conscious consumers. Sold in a pink can, it was targeted specifically at women concerned about their weight and marketed as a solution to increase sex appeal. Tab, ads claimed, could help consumers “be a shape he won’t forget … Tab can help you stay in his mind.”

With Diet Coke available to help keep marriages from crumbling, Tab was relegated to an afterthought, falling from 4 percent of Coke's overall market share to just 1 percent. Zyman believed it was expendable. If Tab Clear happened to catch on, fine. If it didn’t, the failure wouldn’t reflect poorly on the Coke brand.

But Zyman wasn’t content to simply try to compete with Crystal Pepsi. In his mind, Tab Clear was what consumer brands refer to as a “kamikaze effort,” a product expected to fail. Zyman believed that the presence of Tab Clear on shelves would confuse consumers into believing Crystal Pepsi was a diet drink. (It wasn’t, though there was a Diet Crystal Pepsi version available.) By blurring the lines and confusing consumers who wanted either a calorie-free drink or a full-bodied indulgence, Zyman expected Tab Clear to be a dud and bring Crystal Pepsi down right along with it.

“It was a suicidal mission from day one,” Zyman told author Stephen Denny for his 2011 business book, Killing Giants. “Pepsi spent an enormous amount of money on the [Crystal Pepsi] brand and, regardless, we killed it.”

 
 

With Pepsi set for a massive ad spend on the January 1993 Super Bowl, Coke rolled out Tab Clear in 10 cities, with national expansion coming mid-year. Their ad spending was minimal. Coca-Cola made just enough noise to reposition Crystal Pepsi from a hot, trendy new drink to a product with an identity crisis.

“They were going to basically say it was a mainstream drink,” Zyman said. "'This is like a cola, but it doesn’t have any color. It has all this great taste.' And we said, 'No, Crystal Pepsi is actually a diet drink.' Even though it wasn’t. Because Tab had the attributes of diet, which was its demise. That was its problem. It was perceived to be a medicinal drink. Within three to five months, Tab Clear was dead. And so was Crystal Pepsi.”

The dissolution of soda products on shelves is not inherently dramatic, and there was no visceral evidence on display that Tab Clear was flailing. But by the end of 1993, Zyman’s prediction had come true. Crystal Pepsi had grabbed just 0.5 percent of the market, a quarter of Pepsi's prediction. Both Tab Clear and Crystal Pepsi were phased out and Coke was happy to write the dual obituary. “Now both Tab Clear and Crystal Pepsi are about to die,” Coca-Cola chairman Roberto Goizueta told Ad Week in November 1993.

But it was Pepsi that had spent millions in development and $40 million in marketing; it took the company 18 months to formulate their failure. Coke spent just two months on Tab Clear. It was a barnacle that dragged its far more ambitious rival down with it.

Zyman continued to work for Coca-Cola through 1998. Clear products never caught on as some companies anticipated, though they do experience periodic revivals. Zima returned to shelves in 2017, and Crystal Pepsi has had promotional comebacks.

In one final twist, and despite Ivester's earlier declaration that Clear Coke would never see the light of day, the company’s Japanese arm released a zero-calorie Coca-Cola Clear in the country on June 11. This time, they might even want it to succeed.

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