I'm currently writing an in-depth book on the history of the Ellisdon family and their famous joke and magic business. It's set to be released later this year through CollectingMagicBooks.com.
To mark this announcement I thought I'd take a look at some classic joke shop staples, appearing snakes.
The most famous incarnation of these was created in 1915 by the goliath of the American novelty world, S. S. Adams. He created the Snake Nut Can, an innocent-looking tin of nuts which, when opened by the unsuspecting victim, released a huge green snake. Here's a 1950s model.
Though Adams' can was certainly the most successful use of this idea, his invention was really a variation on an already popular theme, rather than a true original. The first adverts I have of a joke appearing snake are in a Hamleys catalogue from around 1900. One is a spring snake from a playing card box and the other a spring German sausage from a pouch of tobacco, both almost certainly imported from Germany.
Over time the most popular form of the joke sold in the UK used small pots of jam, mustard or face cream. One of these early glass jars can be seen below.
These two adverts from Davenports show how the joke was marketed from the inter-war years onwards. The distinctive pattern of the jar above can be seen in the advert on the left.
The German and Japanese manufacturers ran with this joke in a big way creating many variations. Snakes would pop out of practically any object which could accommodate a spring snake. One of the simpler tricks was this shaving brush canister.
Many of these early versions have charming hand-painted faces. To give an idea of the huge variety of snake jokes on offer, here is a page from the German firm Carl Quel's 1937 wholesale catalogue.