Rochelle Higgins (Artist's Conception)
Rochelle Higgins (Artist's Conception)

'BunaB,' a Brilliantly Useless Product Line

Rochelle Higgins (Artist's Conception)
Rochelle Higgins (Artist's Conception)

Radio host Al Crowder invented a singular product line that astounded the world—at least the fraction of the world that bought these products, and sent back the included registration cards. Crowder called the line "BunaB," and they were absolutely, delightfully useless. He made the first one, called "Improved #7 BunaB," in 1951, which cost $0.98, or two for $2.00.

The Improved #7 BunaB consisted of two 1.75-inch pieces of insulated wire, taped together at the ends. It came in a small plastic case intended for a clarinet reed, with the gold-embossed slogan, "Genuine, Improved, #7 BunaB." Crowder made the Improved #7 in his home in Mason City, Iowa, but he promoted it as being the creation of a company called Orville K. Snav and Associates. Crowder even referred to his home as Snav Towers.

In the instruction manual, Crowder wrote:

"The #7 will, with reasonable care, give years of trouble-free service. It has been scientifically inspected and checked against the master model at the factory. The Improved #7 BunaB will meet or exceed specifications set up by the industry for accuracy, durability and simplicity of operation. No moving parts insures constant stability."

In addition to a couple of wires and a plastic box, the #7 came with a registration card. If you filled this out and mailed it back to Crowder, he'd send a personal letter back (in the guise of Orville K. Snav, "the Wizard of Lime Creek"), discussing fictional happenings of Snav and his associates. In Crowder's world, Snav was repeatedly snubbed for the Nobel Prize, held months-long parties in his tower, and had not been seen since "the incident in Peoria."

Along with the letter from Crowder, registration card returnees instantly earned the title "Assistant to the President of BunaB International," though Crowder himself reserved the title of "Chief Assistant to the President." By one estimate, over 40,000 Improved #7s were sold by the time of Crowder's death in 1981. (After Crowder's death, his wife Louise continued the business, answering correspondence under the pseudonym Dame Minerva P. Snav.) A number of famous folks owned their own #7s, including all seven of the original Mercury astronauts.


Although it began with the Improved #7, Crowder's BunaB product line expanded over time. Most of them were available for $0.98 each or a dozen for $12.00. Here's a breakdown of the product line:

BunaB #2: Zudirk. A small, unplayable board game. It included a game board, pieces, and a note that read "Totally unplayable, no matter how many times you read the instructions."

BunaB #3: The Man's Between Shave Lotion. An empty bottle whose contents could be restored just by adding water. Designed to be applied during the 23.75-hour period between the Men's Before Shave Lotion and Men's After Shave Lotion. (Neither existed.) Originally priced at $117 per barrel, the $0.98 version was a "new Giant Petite" size, containing 960 minims.

BunaB #4: Micro-Precision Dial. An on/off dial. Included a sticky pad to attach it to things.

BunaB #5: Companion to TV. A 12-inch vinyl record containing no sound, designed to be played while watching TV. (Crowder suggested that it was a recording of the original soundtrack to a silent film.) Priced at $3.95 but never actually available, hence "a savings to you of $3.95."

BunaB #6: Very Similar to #7. Actually virtually identical to the Improved #7.


In addition to the core BunaB line, Orville K. Snav and Associates produced a handful of products. The most notable was the Post Meridian Morning (PMM) Shield, an opaque half-circle intended to block out the morning hours on a clock so that the day started at 12:01 p.m. Crowder called the morning "one of the anathemas of modern civilization."

Another product: the "Exigency Conversion Apparatus" (ECA), which allowed the user to convert any room into a restroom by applying a decal to the door. Yet another was the Primeval Combustion Device (PCD), which involved rubbing two sticks together to make fire.

The best-known Snav product remains the Improved #7. That product was the basis for an April 1958 profile of Crowder in Playboy. In the article, writer Bernard Asbell described the Improved #7:

It does nothing—physically, that is. But psychologically, it's as miraculous as digital computers or any of the complex gadgets, of real or dubious import, that crowd our ulcerous machine civilization. Its devotees look upon it as a tiny, clear Bronx cheer aimed at our mechanized age, a parody of rampant technology and its highly touted advantages.


In addition to its popularity with astronauts and celebrities, BunaB products made inroads on college campuses in the 70s, in time for Crowder to enjoy the success before he died from prostate cancer in 1981. Author John Peterson recalled in his book The True-Life Adventures of Captain Wa Wah:

... During an unusually tense political period on campus in 1970, I sent a #7 to one of the leaders of the radical student groups who was known for his serious and uncompromising political positions. He never smiled. About two weeks after he received his BunaB, I asked him if he had received his #7 and whether or not he had become an Assistant to The President [...]. A sheepish grin came slowly to his face. And he said, "Orville K. Snav is a very wise man."

Special thanks to Rochelle Higgins for creating the artist's conception of the Improved #7.

© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Hires Puppy to Sniff Out Art-Munching Bugs
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some dogs are qualified to work at hospitals, fire departments, and airports, but one place you don’t normally see a pooch is in the halls of a fine art museum. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is changing that: As The Boston Globe reports, a young Weimaraner named Riley is the institution’s newest volunteer.

Even without a background in art restoration, Riley will be essential in maintaining the quality of the museum's masterpieces. His job is to sniff out the wood- and canvas-munching pests lurking in the museum’s collection. During the next few months, Riley will be trained to identify the scents of bugs that pose the biggest threat to the museum’s paintings and other artifacts. (Moths, termites, and beetles are some of the worst offenders.)

Some infestations can be spotted with the naked eye, but when that's impossible, the museum staff will rely on Riley to draw attention to the problem after inspecting an object. From there, staff members can examine the piece more closely and pinpoint the source before it spreads.

Riley is just one additional resource for the MFA’s existing pest control program. As far as the museum knows, it's rare for institutions facing similar problems to hire canine help. If the experiment is successful, bug-sniffing dogs may become a common sight in art museums around the world.

[h/t The Boston Globe]

Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.
Mütter Museum Showcases the Victorian Custom of Making Crafts From Human Hair
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

During the Victorian era, hair wasn’t simply for heads. People wove clipped locks into elaborate accessories, encased them in frames and lockets, and used them to make wreaths, paintings, and other items. "Woven Strands," a new exhibition at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, explores this historical practice by featuring dozens of intricate works culled from five private collections.

According to Emily Snedden Yates, special projects manager at the Mütter Museum, hair work—as it’s called today—was common in England and America between the 17th and early 20th centuries. The popularity of the practice peaked in the 19th century, thanks in part to Queen Victoria’s prolonged public mourning after her husband Prince Albert’s death in 1861. People in both the UK and U.S. responded to her grief, with the latter country also facing staggering death tolls from the Civil War.

With loss of life at the forefront of public consciousness, elaborate mourning customs developed in both nations, and hair work became part of the culture of bereavement. "[The 19th century was] such a sentimental age, and hair is about sentiment," exhibition co-curator Evan Michelson tells Mental Floss. That sentimental quality made hair work fit for both mourning practices as well as for romantic or familiar displays of fondness.

Palette work culled from the collection of Evan Michelson and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Palette work from the collection of Evan Michelson
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Most hair artworks were made by women, and created solely for the domestic sphere or as wearable trinkets. Women relied on multiple techniques to create these objects, fashioning wreaths with hair-wrapped bendable wires—a process called gimp work—and dissolving ground hair into pigments used to paint images of weeping willows, urns, and grave sites. Watch fobs, necklaces, and bracelets were woven using an approach called table work, which involved anchoring hair filaments with lead weights onto a table and using tools to twist them into intricate patterns through a hole in the furniture’s surface. Yet another technique, palette work, involved stenciled sheets of hair that were cut into various shapes and patterns.

Hair work remained popular until World War I, according to Michelson, who co-owns New York City's quirky Obscura Antiques and Oddities shop and organized "Woven Strands" along with 19th century decorative arts expert John Whitenight.

“Women hit the workforce, and death occurred on such a huge scale that it really swept away the old way of mourning and the old way of doing things,” Michelson says. By the early 20th century, tastes and aesthetics had also changed, with hair work beginning to be viewed “as something grandma had,” she explains.

The Mütter’s exhibition aside, people typically won’t see hair work in major museums. Being a craft primarily performed by women at home, hair works were usually passed down in families and often viewed as worthless from a financial and artistic perspective.

“A lot of hair work was discarded,” Michelson says. Many owners repurposed the shadowbox frames often used to display hair work by removing and tossing the artworks within. Works stored in basements and attics also frequently succumbed to water damage and insects. Antique dealers today typically only see hair jewelry, which often featured semi-precious materials or was encased in a protective layer.

Sepia dissolved hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Sepia dissolved hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Yet examples of hair wreaths, palette work, and other delicate heirlooms do occasionally surface. They’re prized by a small group of avid collectors, even though other connoisseurs can be grossed out by them.

“People have this visceral reaction to it,” Michelson says. “They either gasp and adore it—like ‘I can’t get over how amazing it is’—or they just back away. There are very few other things where people are repulsed like this … In the 19th century no one batted an eyelash.”

“It’s a personal textile,” Snedden Yates explains. “It’s kind of like bone in that it doesn’t really decompose at the same rate as the rest of our bodies do. It’s not made of tissue, so if you keep it in the right environment it can be maintained indefinitely.”

Table work culled from the collection of Eden Daniels and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Table work from the collection of Eden Daniels
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

“Woven Strands” features examples of gimp work, palette work, table work, and dissolved hair work. It’s often hard to trace these types of artworks back to their original creators—they typically don’t bear signatures—but the curators “really wanted to find hair that you could connect to an actual human being,” Michelson says. “We chose pieces that have provenance. We know where they came from or when it was made, or who actually donated the hair in some cases, or what the family name was. We also picked out things that are unusual, that you don’t see often—oddities, if you will.”

Woven hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Woven hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Displayed in the Mütter Museum’s Thomson Gallery, “Woven Strands” opens on January 19, 2018, and runs through July 12, 2018. On April 7, 2018, master jeweler and art historian Karen Bachmann will lead a 19th century hair art workshop, followed by a day-long historical symposium on the art on Sunday, April 8.

Michelson hopes that “Woven Strands” will teach future generations about hair art, and open their minds to a craft they might have otherwise dismissed as parochial or, well, weird. “We hope that people see it and fall in love with it,” she says.


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