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Pulp Mill Presents: Golden Age Ads Week #3 You can solve the mystery!

There are a few sweeping categories that make up about 90% of pulp magazine ads: brand name products, smaller independent products, and then “start a new career” ads. The latter category is generally not all that interesting. Its basically the same type of thing you’ll see in a modern day ad for an online college: become an accountant, become a mechanic, an engineer, a lawyer, etc, etc, blah blah blah. Its all very dull and suburban, with the exception of the spots advertising a career as a detective!

If only my childhood had been filled with such encouraging ads then perhaps I would have a different day job. A detective was definitely one of the top 3 things I wanted to be when I grew up, right along side astronaut and pirate. I would get a different piece of spy-tech equipment at each gift giving occasion. I had a camera disguised as a Reese’s cup, I had walki-talkies, I even had one of those periscopes with the mirror in it so that you can look around corners! I occasionally hauled all of this equipment door to door around my neighborhood asking for mysteries to solve. My detective fantasies were fueled by the noirish comic book worlds of Dick Tracy and Batman and had a decidedly anachronistic feel to them. I never suspected that it could really be a career choice. But what if I had grown up with these ads, seen the words “BE A DETECTIVE” screaming off the page? One can only speculate and hope that there is an alternate universe out there where I did.

The following is a brief assortment of the typical short-style detective ads found in the pulps. During the late 40s these were found in just about every single pulp magazine. The same ad could be found in multiple magazines and some magazines contained ads for multiple detective training agencies. These ads aren’t thrilling but they do use intriguing phrases like “secret code-booklet” to grab the reader’s attention (and money).

This ad, however, is the real treat. It is exactly what I wanted to find, a quarter page ad that shamelessly appeals to the reader’s pulp fantasies. First, the ad urges one to send in for their free copy of the manuscripts that Secret Service Operator 38 sent to his chief. These are pitched as better than fiction! But here is the real hook, if you are just absolutely blown away by the real-life adventures of Operator 38, you can learn his trade and be a real finger print artist yourself! Hell, I know I would have at least gone in for the free book. Coming up next week: golden age comic strip ads - Ted Gilbert

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