Wednesday, November 23, 2011


At the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century, three brothers named DeMoulin joined together to form the DeMoulin Brothers Company. The company they started is still in existence today and is the leading manufacture of band uniforms in the country. However, the DeMoulin Brothers didn’t make their fortune selling band uniforms. They made their fortune designing, creating, and manufacturing lodge initiation devices. Replicating such a success in today’s sue-happy society would be impossible. However, it did happen once upon a time in America. The story of the DeMoulin brothers is quite interesting and at times fascinating and this unique and particular American story is finally beginning to gain some of the attention it deserves.

Last year (2010) saw the publication of CATALOG 439 edited by Charles Schneider and published by Fantagraphic Books. That book was mostly a reprinting of Catalog 439, the most famous of the DeMoulin Brothers catalogs. Now there is THE EXTRAORDINARY CATALOG OF PECULIAR INVENTIONS by Julia Suits. Unlike CATALOG 439, this book isn’t a reprinting of one particular DeMoulin catalog. Instead it is a hodge-podge of selected items from several different DeMoulin catalogs, photos from the period, essays about lodges and lodge initiation devices, and random quotes. The subtitle of the book is “The Curious World of the DeMoulin Brothers and Their Fraternal Lodge Pranks Machines—from Human Centipedes and Revolving Goats to Electric Carpets and Smoking Camels” and several of the devices invented and manufactured by the DeMoulins are featured within. However, the book itself is more like an overview of lodge life in the early 1900s.  Chapters include “The Brothers DeMoulin”, “Fraternalism 101”, “Fun Work: The Side-Degree”, “Factory Goats”, “See You in Court”, “Zzzzzt! The Shockers”, “Bang! Crash! Splat!: The Mechanicals”, and “Wardrobe! The Wearables”. The book also includes a brief introduction by magician & illusionist David Copperfield (DeMoulin artifacts are highly collectible among magicians).

THE EXTRAORDINARY CATALOG OF PECULIAR INVENTIONS is an interesting book. However, the book lacks focus. The illustrations of the book fit the chapters, but the written text that accompanies the illustrations don’t always fit those chapters. Not only that, but there is also a lot of random bits thrown in. While I was reading the book, I felt like I was reading a literary equivalent of a pop-up video. In short, the material in THE EXTRAORDINARY CATALOG OF PECULIAR INVENTIONS is fascinating, but the way it’s edited make the book feel more like a reference or trivia book; it makes a create coffee table book and conversation piece.

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