Legends: Archie McPhee

Published September 14, 2009 by Molly

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Speak the words “Archie McPhee” and you’ll get one of two reactions. The first is a blank. The second is an instantaneous metaphysical transfer back into the realm of childhood obsessions. There is no middle ground.

Archie McPhee is the catalog of a novelty store based in Seattle––a catalog that found its way into the homes of several generations of American youth and greatly influenced the mischief careers of many. Allow us to explain.

The idea for the company belonged to Mark Pahlow, who points to his dull childhood in Ohio as the impetus for launching the enterprise. “In 1963,” he wrote in Who Would Buy This? The Archie McPhee Story, “the two most exciting things in my life were my $3.98 ‘Made in Japan’ transistor radio with a fake leather case and Whitey, my albino hamster.” Growing up, Pahlow nourished himself on MAD Magazine and the alluring ads for x-ray specs and Sea-Monkeys that he spotted in the back of comic books. Eventually, he decided to launch his own emporium of novelty goods. “Archie McPhee was created because reality wasn’t quite living up to my expectations,” he explains.

And there the legend began. Pahlow set about collecting the things he craved as a child: rubber chickens, potato guns, fake mustaches, giant underpants, mutant cockroaches, punching nuns, ninja figurines, squirting rubber brains, and so forth. He produced a catalog that found its way into the homes of impressionable young children, who hoarded the catalog and squandered their allowance on realistic latex poo.

Eventually the rest of the country caught on to what us kids already knew, which was that Archie McPhee was a crucially important index of our innermost devious desires. The Smithsonian now maintains an archive of Archie McPhee catalogs, preserved in the catacombs for future generations to discover. In the words of Pahlow, “Never have your tax dollars been better spent.”

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3 comments so far

  1. Scott Heff says:

    I just bought this book! It is awesome. I love Archie McPhee. It’s the best part of living in Seattle.

  2. stark says:

    help, how do i instantaneously metaphysically transfer back out of the realm of 90’s adolescent obsessions

  3. Nadine says:

    I used to work at Sonic Book Records down the street from Archie McPhee’s and we’d sign up for window display contests so we could go there with our $50 design budget and go nuts. That store is pretty great. There is also a wind-up toy store in Pike Place Market that is pretty rad, too.