Carbolic Smoke Ball (read below to find out what that is) sells clever gifts for lawyers and bankers. Some are silly, some classy, and all are very appropriate. (Dentists, Politicos, Doctors and Property Folks also serviced.)
We chat with owner Philip Jenks, who loved the site when he was a solicitor, and bought it when he realised his career was going nowhere (after being "allocated an office with no table, no telephone and a seat that flushed").
HITC: Firstly, what is a Carbolic Smoke Ball?
PJ: It's the name of a famous law case of 1893 in which the manufacturer of a quack influenza spray was sued for breach of promise. Every lawyer in the UK and Commonwealth has studied the case because it established an important precedent in contract law, so it's quite a good name for selling stuff to lawyers.
HITC: But not very good for selling stuff to anyone else, huh.
PJ: That's true. Most people assume we sell soap.
HITC: So what do you sell?
PJ: In all, we have about 400 different items. Most of them have some connection with the law - for instance, we have the best legal cartoons from Punch, lots of 'classic' law pictures, stationery items, cufflinks & jewellery, ties and so on, but we've also added products which appeal to professionals of all types.
HITC: Such as?
PJ: Well, last year we unearthed a stock of classic Parker 51 fountain pens - beautiful objects which many people think were the best pen ever made. We have had them reconditioned and now sell them for £100 each. They are very difficult to find anywhere else and are flying out. We also import a nifty 'laptop desk' which makes it easy to work on your PC on the train or in an armchair without burning your knees.
HITC: My impression was that there is a strong satirical streak to the range...
PJ: Definitely. One of the most popular products is a figurine saying 'Sue the Bastards', and another favourite is a coffin pen-holder with 'Ashes of Difficult Clients' etched on the side. They make very good presents to the right person.
HITC: Do you have any competition in this area?
PJ: Not really. We develop most of the products ourselves, which keeps us distinctive. Very few of the items we sell can be found anywhere else.
HITC: Some of them are quite schmaltzy. I'm thinking of the teddy bears.
PJ: Well, they're very popular. The one with the jumper saying 'World's Sexiest Lawyer' seems to have hit a hot spot, and we've also got 'World's Coolest Lawyer', 'Legal Genius', and 'World's Messiest Lawyer'.
HITC: Any plans to do other professions? Bankers maybe?
PJ: Yes, I'd like to be covering all the professions. We've got one fantastic product for City people - it's a framed display of the business cards of Rockefeller, Getty, Ford, Edison, Howard Hughes and Vanderbilt, with a space left for your card, or someone you're giving it to. It's very flattering, and a perfect way to brown-nose a client!
HITC: So, do you have a good lawyer joke for us?
PJ: I steer clear of lawyer jokes. My customers don't like them! But we have just launched a brilliant 'fake newspaper' service, which allows your own name or someone else's into a very realistic newspaper article. It's enormous fun. There are articles on business, food, sex, golf, all sort of things, and every one of them is very funny and borderline believable.
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