A.C. in Lompoc has a complete boxed "Brainstorm Beanie," circa 1954, marketed by the Jim Prentice Electric Toy Co. What makes this so special? The condition! Children's toys are not usually found unused in a pristine box after 63 years.
Although there's no date on the box, I found the date of production by searching vintage comic books. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, comic book publishers realized they had a powerful and willing mass market — boys — who would clip out an order form and send in money for a host of amazing (or so they appeared) toys and offers. Comic Favorites Inc. advertised the Brainstorm Beanie with such a mail order form in August of 1954 in a copy of "Jonesy #7."
Jonesy (Marvin Jones), Carol Lynne, J.P. Barnaby and Weepy, high school friends, palled around and went on various adventures in the "Jonesy" series. The August 1954 issue featured a few other notable advertisements: "Now You Can Fly a Real Jet Plane," offered by Jetex F-102, and Charles Atlas' claim of fitness for the 97-pound weakling: "The Insult that Turned a Chump into a Champ." Brainstorm Beanie was in great company: Charles Atlas (aka Angelo Siciliano, 1882-1972) was arguably the most successful bodybuilder and ad man of his time, offering to send his "Dynamic Exercise Materials" to skinny young men across the U.S. Brainstorm Beanie, on the other hand, offered to "light up" a youngster's brilliant ideas. Apparently, the era of the manic inventor reached down into kids' kitsch, transforming a generation of boys into mad scientists.
The form of the Brainstorm Beanie was, of course, a beanie cap in blue velvet, labeled "Brainstorm Beanie" in embroidered letters over the forehead. Beanie caps became popular in the late 1940s due to the TV sock puppet kids' show "Time for Beany," which ran with great popularity for five years, later becoming a syndicated animated cartoon, "Beany and Cecil," where Capt. Horatio Huffenpuff's nephew, Beany Boy, palled around with Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent. Of course, Beany Boy wore a flying propeller beanie, fast adopted by TV character Beaver Cleaver, and many college frat boys thereafter.
The first “propeller head” (today a term for technophiles) was worn by a science fiction writer in 1947 at a World Convention of sci-fi aficionados in Detroit: advertisers saw the potential and capitalized on boys’ fascinations with jet propellers, atomic energy, helicopter double blades, and finally electric power in toys. As in AC’s Brainstorm Beanie, sci-fi was transformed into low-end novelty. This itself was so uniquely American that the propeller beanie was featured at the Brussels World's Fair of 1958 at the US Pavilion in an exhibit called “How America Lives.” Imagine the shock as compared to the controversially serious Soviet Pavilion next-door.
The inventor of the Brainstorm Beanie, a beanie with a difference, however, was a mathematics student who became a lifelong games-maker. Jim Prentice was the Father of Electronic Baseball Games (named by collectors as such, worldwide); in fact, he was the actual father of The Electric Games Company, employing at its peak 200 employees in an 80K sq. ft. factory in Holyoke, MA.
Today it is difficult to imagine that the introduction of electricity to boy’s toys would be groundbreaking, but the inclusion of a battery (late 1930’s- mid 1950’s) created electro-mechanical action toys and games complete with flashing lights and moving parts. AC’s Brainstorm Beanie, likewise, has a flash-able red light at the crown of the beanie, controlled by one massive handheld container for a large battery cell, attached to the hat with an obvious cord.
What did Mr Prentice claim to be the benefits of wearing a flashing red light beanie, controllable at will? The box says it all; a boy can - and will "Light up an Idea, Send Secret Code, Be Safe on Dark Roads, Be the Center of Attention and Laffs” (sic), and “Many Other Uses”. What might those many other uses be? Synchronized thinking, perhaps?
Amazing, also, in these high-tech game days, that the simple use of a word “Electric” emblazoned on the box used as a marketing hook for scores of young men. Those young men saw ‘electric’ and ordered post-haste from the comic book ad: there’s no denying that sci fi was everywhere in the 1950’s, even on the top of Junior’s head.
The value, because of the almost new condition, and the iconic “back story” (provenance) of the Brainstorm Beanie is $200.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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