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Boardwalk merchandising also a form of entertainment — A look back at Atlantic County history

(Look Back is an occasional series with content and images from the Atlantic County Historical Society.)

During the prosperous years in Atlantic City, 1930-1960, some of the entertainment on the Boardwalk was provided by the "auction galleries" and kitchen gadget stands. People walking on the Boardwalk found it difficult not to stop at either one and listen to the smooth talk of the "tip man," whose job it was to form a crowd of prospective buyers.

In front of the auctions, the tip man stood on a raised platform and offered passersby expensive-looking free gifts such as fountain pens, travel alarm clocks, player pianos and transistor radios. He worked very hard to build a crowd and then get them seated. Then the auctioneer would take over and start the sale, which would usually last for 1½ hours.

The auctioneer would start the sale by presenting a ladies diamond ring, followed by ladies' and men's watches. The sale area was surrounded by so called estate jewelry, dinnerware, Sheffield silver sets and a large Persian Rug displayed on a large easel.

At one time, there were 11 auction houses extending from States Avenue to Indiana Avenue. They differed in size and numbers of auctioneers.

Attracting Boardwalk crowds to the kitchen-gadget stand was also the responsibility of a pitchman, whose sole job was to keep his gift of gab going while entertaining and getting the crowd to participate and become engaged. Products offered were knives, juice squeezers, food mixers and assorted kitchen items. This was the forerunner of Veg-A-Matic and items that today are "seen on TV."

One of the best-known pitchmen was Archie Morris, who was a first-class entertainer and above all a great salesman. Most people bought one of the gadgets only to find when they returned home that they didn't perform like they did on the Boardwalk. A well-known celebrity who got his start in this business after being discharged from the Marines was Ed McMahon, who went on to be well known for his television work.

Even though most visitors knew the value of the products that they purchased from both the auctions and kitchen gadget stands, they enjoyed for the most part being entertained at no expense. The last auction gallery was closed in 1978 when the casino industry closed it down.

Founded in 1913, the Atlantic County Historical Society has been preserving historical materials in its library and museum since. Every week, Wednesday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., it opens its doors to share these collections with anyone who is interested. The society building is located at 907 Shore Road in Somers Point. More information is available at and on Facebook, or by calling 609-927-5218.

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