Deals worth the wait: Hammacher Schlemmer Annual Sale

Some deals only come around once or twice a year, but offer savings that justify the wait. This post is part of our series on such 'don't miss' sales.

Those folks at Hammacher Schlemmer , the oldest continuously-published catalog in the U.S., are a little sneaky. Its "Rather Famous" Annual Sale is held annually all right, but several times a year. Still, it's easy to see why they would have multiple annual sales. You wouldn't want to wait 364 days to try to get some of these items. I sound like I'm on the payroll for them, but honestly, they do have some pretty unusual stuff, and claim that the sale price is up to 65% off.

Who wouldn't jump at the chance to buy a water-repellent goat suede blazer at $249.95, 50% off its normal price? Or an Italian Merino Ruffled Cape for $69.95, a savings of $90? For the vegan, how about a set of Lincoln Logs (invented by Frank Lloyd Wright's son, by the way) at $30 off the usual price of $89.95?

I'm now half thinking of getting my 6-year-old the Children's Touch Screen ATM Bank for $69.95 (it accepts real coins and bills) or maybe their Young Metereologist's Weather Station ($49.95), which lets kids make their own weather forecasts. You can test rain's acidity levels, build a hygrometer to gauge humidity, and I'm pretty sure that they include an Al Roker face mask. And if they don't, they should.

Anyway, the sale or sales are "rather famous" for taking 65% off almost 100 items.

But what really excites me is what it doesn't sell but nevertheless owns: the store's history.

Hammacher Schlemmer opened in New York City as a small hardware store in 1848. It ultimately morphed into a mail-order catalog business. It's still that, but it's also an online business that specializes in selling the unique. For instance, when the first cars were sold, there were no gas stations, and so Hammacher Schlemmer sold their Motorist Touring Kit, which allowed drivers to fix a flat or blown gasket. And over the years, the store claims to have been the first to sell the pop-up toaster in 1930, the electric razor (1934) and the first steam iron (1948), as well as the first electric pencil sharpener, food processor, electric can opener and automatic coffee maker. A big year for them was 1968: the first telephone answering machine and microwave oven.

The store has featured some really odd and expensive items over the years. They hire buyers to travel the world's trade shows and clearly take pride in selling things you can't find anywhere else, like the seven-person tricycle, built in Amsterdam by an American artist, that they sold for $16,000. They're currently offering both a lifelike robot that resembles the one in the 1960s TV show, Lost in Space, retailing at $24,500, and another robot identical to Robby the Robot, famous for being in the 1956 now-classic movie, The Forbidden Planet, priced at $50,000.

Of course, I can barely afford the gifts I'm thinking of getting my daughters, let alone the robots. I wonder if they sell a grown-up's ATM, one that spits out real money... Now that's something I could use.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist, primarily for Entrepreneur magazine, and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).

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