In his regular column, veteran journalist A. Craig Copetas asks if Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin are the modern-day equivalents of sneezing powder and whoopee cushions.

Samuel Soren Adams reckoned it was time to stop hustling in a New Jersey pool hall. So he put down his billiard cue and in 1905 took a job selling coal-tar soap.

“Dad noticed distilled coal tar possessed a tremendously high sneeze potential,” his son Bud recounted thirty years before the iPhone “Sneeze App” arrived on the scene. “So for fun, dad squirted the powder through hotel-room keyholes and inside cafes.”

The elder Adams bottled and marketed his carcinogenic concoction under the name, Cachoo. Within three months of its introduction, a Philadelphia retailer had bought 70,000 bottles. That triumph was followed by the Snake Jam Jar, which, when opened, let loose a metre-long imitation serpent. Then came the Dribble Glass, and then, of course, the Whoopee Cushion. Exploding matches made another big boom.

Bud Adams said his family’s leap from gags to riches proved the public will buy anything, regardless of how dodgy, ridiculous or hazardous the gimmick. And all these years later, it remains hard to dismiss the marketing wisdom of a practical joke mogul whose records indicated he annually sold 10,000 Super Joy Handshake Buzzers in Kuwait and kept the locals coming back for more.

The Adams family’s gizmos spearheaded the way for all sorts of the silly stuff currently available through a smartphone, such as Ajit Khubani’s Massaging Slippers ($27.99);