At least one left-leaning entity did well in the November election: the Unemployed Philosophers Guild, a Brooklyn, N.Y., company that makes witty and intellectual gift items in the style of long-gone Largely Literary. The guild's Disappearing Civil Liberties mug sold out a week after the vote.
The coffee mug features the Bill of Rights on it; the heat of coffee causes the "most endangered" freedoms to vanish—which happens to be most of them. As the catalogue says, "Watch your hard-won civil liberties disappear over a cup of hot joe."
The guild, which introduced the mug in October, created only 3,000 because it believed President Bush wouldn't win re-election. The company was unprepared either for the results or demand. "It was definitely a surprise bestseller," said Stephan Shaw, who created the Unemployed Philosophers Guild when he couldn't get a job while in college, about 10 years ago. In the next week or two, 10,000 more mugs will become available.
"Our runaway hit of the Christmas season without any question was the Disappearing Civil Liberties coffee mug," said Richard Goldman, co-owners of the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, Pa. "We sold 144 of them before the company ran out of them in early December. If we'd had them in stock, we'd have sold well over 200. We immediately put in orders for another 40 or 50 copies." Goldman priced the mugs so that with each purchase, the store donated $5 to ABFFE. The store's initial check to the organization was $720.
"We sell to lots of bookstores," Shaw said. "Most of our products seem to appeal to them." Another popular item is the Global Warming coffee mug: as the cup heats up, land masses turn to water. Indeed, it seems few thoughtful people with a good sense of humor would be unable to appreciate the St. Sebastian Pincushion, Nietzsche's "Will to Power" Bar, the National EmbarrassMints (peppermints with anti-Bush sentiments on the box) or the Einsteinian Relativity Watch, which keeps perfect time but whose numbers move around the hands. The guild's many dolls and magnets feature famous philosophers, politicians, writers, composers and painters. The Axis of Evil set, for example, consists of a miniature Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Il Ayatollah Khamenei—and George Bush. Similar to the dolls and magnets, guild stationery presents smaller images of famous artists, composers, writers and works of art. Interactive pillows depict various artistic or religious works and play music when they are squeezed—the Last Supper pillow plays "Hey, Jude" by the Beatles.
For bookstore customers unhappy with the results of the presidential election, the guild also sells items traditionally used by writers to silence their demons: shot glasses. The guild's versions portray the faces of and quotations by Faulkner, Hemingway, Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde, who have some droll commentary.
Bookstores interested in purchasing the Disappearing Civil Liberties mug or any other guild item may visit the company's Web site (www.philosophersguild.com) or call (800) 255-8371. The guild may also be reached via fax at (718) 254-9345 or via e-mail (email@example.com).