When I was young, there was a joke shop in Fleming Square, Blackburn. It sold all the tat and nonsense that were offered for mail order sale in the back of comics. This was a world of stink bombs, itching powder and whoopee cushions, and the market leader in this line of business was Ellisdon & Son, of High Holborn, London, who started selling their wares in the early 30s and continued until the mid 70s, when they went bust. In a time before trades description legislation, the claims in the advertisements were, even then, 'imaginative' to say the least, but it seemed that a bright lad armed with a selection of Ellisdon's best could take on the world. Here are a couple of scans of Ellisdon's catalogue.
The Handy Back Scratcher, seen in the bottom scan, is here.
One of my favourite pranks, not incidentally from Ellisdon, is this Dried Scorpion.
The idea is that you spin a yarn about smuggled goods from China, and dried but still venomous scorpions, and heaven knows what else, then produce this blue packet, covered with all sorts of dodgy foreign writing, and tell your victim to open it carefully. When they do, suddenly, a whirring, scuttling rattle is heard and the packet jumps and vibrates in their hands, as if the scorpion has come back from the dead and is intent on stinging the nearest person available.
It is, of course, a trick. Inside the packet is a cardboard paddle and an elastic band, which is wound up beforehand, and unwinds quickly when released. Ah, how we laughed.
A similar gag is this little stone box.
Spin a yarn about Africa and snakes before handing it over. When the lid is slid open, a tiny snake's head arcs over and, with luck, 'stings' your victim's finger. What fun!
My final trick, which I enjoy because it can be done at a distance, is courtesy of Penn and Teller. In their book The Unpleasant Book of Penn and Teller, they have a mock up of a page from a cookery book.
The idea is you photocopy the page, age it a little, then leave it in, let's say, a book on cakes in a library. When the page is found, hopefully, the stranger is taken in and tries the recipe for themself. The problem comes after step 4 - the acidic lemon juice reacts with the alkali baking soda producing the frothy mess and CO2 bubbles that we used to make as volcanoes in science classes. With a little imagination, you can devise other scenarios for yourself, I'm sure.