Thrift Store Finds: The Pocket Book of Boners

Get a load of this week’s Thrift Store Find.


Yes, it’s The Pocket Book of Boners: An Omnibus of Schoolboy Howlers and Unconscious Humor, published in 1932 by the Readers’ League of America. This is the Armed Services Edition of this book. I picked this up for a quarter.


I’m kidding. The term “boner” has an altogether different meaning in 2013, but throughout the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the term was used more to refer to a big mistake or blunder. The word was used quite a bit in popular literature both high and low. My favorite instance of this is an old issue of Batman where The Joker uses (and abuses) “boner” in just about every possible way, shape and form.


The Pocket Book of Boners contains pages and pages of these allegedly innocent mistakes in language. Take these for example:




The book is divided like courses in a school, including chapters on History, Science, Mathematics and Health, and Literature, Language and the Arts. Reading through the book, I found about one in every ten of these boners funny… and the rest were just kind of awful. Your mileage may vary, as always.

Surely this book’s antiquated name was a good enough reason to write about it… but as you may have noticed by the cover, there’s another reason to take a second look at these boners. The authorship of this book is not stated; I’m guessing The Pocket Book of Boners is a product of several editors with none taking full credit. There is an art credit, however… and it’s a doozy. This book is an early example of the illustrations of Theodor Geisel!

Geisel provided twenty illustrations for The Pocket Book of Boners under his “Dr. Seuss” pseudonym. Seuss would have been about 18 years old when this book was printed.

Although taken from the beginning of his career, you can already see some hallmarks of Seuss’ later work. As always, Seuss lavishes attentions on the animal kingdom, erring toward the fantastic


(I love the little details like the curve of the walrus’ tusks)

…or this one.


I know Geisel often recalled his childhood fondness for zoos in interviews as an adult, which makes flights of fancy like this interesting.

Some of these illustrations also show Seuss’ propensity toward Rube Goldberg-ian designs, like this one here.


An idea like “Benjamin Franklin produced electricity by rubbing cats backward” might be easily adapted in a more pedestrian fashion by a lesser cartoonist, but Seuss creates a carousel-like contraption. It’s visually arresting as well as indicative of Seuss’ design sense for future projects.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the handful of images Seuss produced in this volume that are pretty darn racist.


His depictions of Asian and African stereotypes were pretty typical for the 1930’s and 1940’s; Seuss provided newspapers with plenty of racially charged political cartoons depicting Asians in a less-than flattering light, especially through World War II. Given Seuss’ body of work and his tireless championing of basic human rights through cartoons, I don’t know anyone who thinks of Seuss as a racist. More, this kind of racial presentation was simply an expected trope of most cartooning, sadly. Still, looking at some of these illustrations and knowing the tone Seuss would strike with his work in children’s picture books… it’s weirdly conflicting thing to be presented with.

At any rate, The Pocket Book of Boners was a terrific find. Best find in quite a while, as far as I’m concerned. I’m excited and interested to see all the creepy referrals this blog is bound to get after I post this…

One Response to “Thrift Store Finds: The Pocket Book of Boners”

  1. Someone else may have already mentioned this but Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in 1904 and was hired to do these illustrations in 1931 so he would have been 27 years old at the time.

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