Following a vintage automatic writing planchette ad down a rabbit hole

Digging into the backstory of an ad in Mystic magazine.

Digital drawing of an automatic writing planchette.

Yesterday, I mentioned my fascination with an ad headlined "Prove your psychic powers with a planchette!" from the August 1955 edition of Mystic magazine . I was surprised to see an ad for an automatic writing planchette from as late as the 1950s, since my general impression had been that by the 1930s, interest in planchette had waned to the point that there was only one toy company still manufacturing them. It was all about spirit boards by then.

Here's the original ad from Mystic magazine, August 1955:

Prove your psychic powers with a planchette!
The planchette is a mechanical means for automatic writing. It aids psychic manifestations which have no other means of becoming concrete.
The result of an exhaustive search, our authentic planchette is hand-made from a special wood—an “alive” wood that magnetizes—and will absorb YOUR vibrations. It measures about 6 inches in length, Smoothly hand-finished, it is polished to a high lustre with a resin polish which, being a wood byproduct, will not interfere with the vibrations which the operator's continued use sets up.
Specially-fitted pencil forms one leg of planchette, the other two rolling free on ball bearings. These ball bearings permit the slightest indication of movement to take effect, the tiniest wisp of pressure transmitted through your hand. Only a superior product, an authentic psychic appliance, could have this expensive ball-bearing feature.
Complete instructions for use of the planchette, as well as its care and protection of the vibrations, are included with this advanced psychic instrument. Order yours today. $4.00
VENTURE BOOKSHOP P.O. Box 671, Evanston, II.
Please send me___planchettes at only $4.00 each.
I enclose check ___ cash ___ money order ___

Gosh, there's a lot to like about this ad! (If you're me, at least.)

I have no idea what an "alive" wood with  magnetic properties is supposed to be. My guess is that it's marketing BS, but I can't help being charmed by it. (Though in case you're wondering, it does look like wood can have magnetic properties in specific circumstances. But I doubt that's the case here.)

I enjoy some of the nonsense sentences in here, like the planchette's "care and protection of the vibrations." It's fun, silly marketing copy.

The cost of $4 ($45 in 2023) was a bit pricier than I'd expected. For contrast, back when I did my original planchette research, I found that a popular manufacturer in the 1860s sold models that ranged from $1-$15 (or $8-144). But I suppose that the more specialized an item and the lower its expected sales, the higher it's gotta be priced. And if planchettes were unpopular in the 1950s, this particular model probably wasn't a bestseller.

The name of the Illinois retailers, Venture Bookshop, caught my eye. Sure enough, I found a fascinating writeup of the store on Basically, two pulp fiction editors, Raymond A. Palmer[1] and Curtis Fuller, co-founded Clark Publishing Company to publish the legendary Fate magazine (also on

In 1955, Palmer left Fate in the hands of Fuller and his wife, Mary. Palmer went on to publish plenty of other magazines, including Mystic magazine (which is actually how I came to be perusing Mystic in the first place; I was curious about Palmer's other magazines.)

At some point in the 1950s, the Fullers founded Venture Bookshop.

Apparently the shop had plenty of fascinating paranormal devices, according to Mysterious Planchette:

The shop not only offered books and paranormal devices, but also a mail-order business heavily advertised in the various publishing endeavors of the company. Such items include pendulums, tarot cards, and crystal balls, but also more bizarre items they manufactured, including "vibroscopic" divining rods, "aura goggles" with "pinacyanole bromide" for detecting the natural auras of organic and inanimate objects, and, of course, tools for speaking to the dead.

So it makes sense that it was advertised in Mystic magazine, since it was run by the Fullers' business partner.

I just love oddball pseudoscientific paranormal investigation curiosities[2], and I wish I could see more of Venture Bookshop's wares.[3] Apparently Venture Bookshop sold some high-quality stuff: Mysterious Planchette says that their planchette was particularly well-made from walnut wood (which, as far as I can tell, doesn't have magnetic properties.)

Have you ever experimented with automatic writing planchettes? I now really want to dust mine off and experiment with it a bit.

[1] Raymond A. Palmer is also famous for his stint as the editor of Amazing Stories, where he published and popularized the Shaver Mystery. (By the way, if you want to hear me talk about the Shaver Mystery, check out my appearance on the podcast Paranormal Patio.)

[2] As long as they aren't being used to hurt anyone or justify, say, eschewing medical treatment

[3] In fact, last week, I enjoyed watching the latest episode of the Haunted Objects podcast, which was all about aura goggles.