DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 29: Gifts From Foreign Lands

By Ray Schultz

Max Sackheim, co-founder of the Book of the Month Club, had abandoned Cleveland in 1944. His son Sherman would return from the Army to learn that his parents had left for New York, just as he found they’d left for Cleveland when he came home from summer camp in 1927. Max Sackheim had gone back into the agency business, writing ads for paint sprayers and other such products.

One day, Sackheim opened an envelope and found a dollar in it. “I’ll bet you a dollar you won’t take my account,” it said. The letter was from David Margoles, who operated a company called Damar out of his car. Sackheim took the bet, and their first project was to sell a garlic crusher by mail. it sold millions, thanks not to wordsmithing but vision, said the copywriter Andi Emerson. But it was only the start.

“In my search for new products I tried to cover everything available in this country and abroad,” Marguiles said in an interview. “For instance, in Italy I found a garlic press, which became one of our successful items. This and the search for other gadgets led me to establish contacts with buying representatives in key spots internationally.”

That gave Marogles and Sackheim an idea: To start a continuity program modeled on the Book of the Month Club. They came up with the Around the World Shoppers Club, which offered Americans, who didn’t travel much at that time, A SURPRISE PACKAGE FROM A FOREIGN LAND EVERY MONTH!

It was marketed through a wave of junk mail that doubtless brought business for Ed Proctor and many other list peddlers. The copy described Notre Dame, rising majestically from its island in the Seine while bibliophiles browse among the bookstalls of the Left Bank and philosophical fishermen dangle their fishless lines in the shining waters. Also promised were knick-knacks from Merry England, Eternal Greece and “Sweden, the land of Ancient Vikings,” all intriguingly foreign in appearance. The cost: $20 for 12 monthly surprises.

Unfortunately, the club ran into trouble, lots of it, the company stated in a racist follow-up letter. One problem was late delivery: People around the world are not Americans. In India, for example, the clocks frequently do not tell the right time, the trains run when the engineers have finished their lunches, and there is little, if any, modern plumbing. And the natives simply have no concept of time as we do…

Then there was the problem of broken or poorly wrapped packages. Again, it was due to the fact that the foreign craftsmen do not always know how to package the beautiful things they make. We will just have to be patient until we can educate foreigners to package gifts properly!

“It’s a headache!” admitted Sallie Weir, Sackheim’s second wife. “You have to deal with all kinds of personalities. Our representatives have to negotiate in a dozen languages.”

Chapter 30: The Nervous Breakdown Saint

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