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Seattle Novelty Store a Living Shrine to Pop Culture

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Seattle Novelty Store a Living Shrine to Pop Culture

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Seattle Novelty Store a Living Shrine to Pop Culture

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Try finding something to buy for a nickel or a dime. In Seattle, you can. At Archie McPhee's bins are brimming with them. Pull out a few dollars and buy a lunch lady action figure or rubber duckies adorned with tattoos. The store is so big and so rich with pop culture its catalogs are collected by the Smithsonian.

NPR's Wendy Kaufman takes us inside.

WENDY KAUFMAN: As neighborhood five and dimes have largely given way to homogenized chain stores, Archie McPhee remains a bastion of quirky, edgy, and often irreverent humor. The traditional rubber duck has been transformed into one with red horns and evil eyebrows, the freeloader fork is long enough to reach a plate across the table, and the bubble gum cigarettes have names like Black Lung. Other items don't seem to have any particular raison d'etre. Store manager Shana Danger Iverson and her colleague David Wahl show off one of those - the wind-up hopping Lederhosen.

Ms. SHANA DANGER IVERSON (Store Manager, Archie McPhee, Seattle): Which is a pair of Bavarian folk pants that wind up and walk. And let them hop.

Mr. DAVID WAHL (Catalog Manager, Archie McPhee, Seattle): This actually lived as just a drawing hanging on the cubicle of one of our designers for about five years before it actually got made. Then, one day, our owner just walked up and pulled the picture down, and goes, this is the year we make this.

KAUFMAN: And so it's been for more than two decades. If the boss wants it, it gets made. Today, the company sells 10,000 or so trinkets and other items in its retail store, online, and through its wholesale business. Nearly everything is made in China. Some items cost as little as a nickel; most, including the shushing librarian and other action figures, cost less than $10.

Mr. WAHL: I'm kind of partial to the Lunch lady, yet the obsessive-compulsive action figure is interesting, too.

KAUFMAN: Shoppers Jim and Sue Malm(ph) are also very fond of a plastic Virgin Mary that can be stamped or imprinted into a piece of bread before toasting.

Ms. SUE MALM: Oh, it's really something. But yeah, there are a lot of things that harken back to one's past, if one had a Catholic education a long time ago, Nunzilla. Things like that.

Mr. MALM: The boxing nun.

Ms. S. MALM: Yeah, the boxing nun.

KAUFMAN: Poking fun at everything, including many religions is a kind of sport here. The company's action figure of Jesus now resides in the Smithsonian.

Mr. CRAIG ORR (Associate Curator, National Museum of American History): Let me tell you the story of how we got it.

KAUFMAN: Craig Orr, an associate curator at the National Museum of American History says it goes back to 2002 and Richard Alborn(ph), a senior curator and an expert in religious culture.

Mr. ORR: He basically stumbled upon this Jesus action figure and thought it was wonderful, and bought one for the museum.

KAUFMAN: The Smithsonian's American History Museum is the repository for pop culture as well as serious history, and it now has a near complete collection of Archie McPhee catalogs.

Wendy Kaufman, NPR News, Seattle.

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