Don Poynter Built a Novelty Empire As One of Cincinnati’s First Makers

Don Poynter built a business on jokey (sometimes naughty, often weird) gift products. Now some of those are in the collections of Cincinnati Museum Center.

The rising generation of makers knows that success will be a long haul of finding affordable supplies and workspaces, selling at artisan markets and small stores, and building business through word-of-mouth and promotion. But there’s also this to look forward to: Maybe, when they reach old age, they can visit the Cincinnati Museum Center and see their work preserved as part of the city’s manufacturing heritage.

Illustration by Jonathan Carlson

That recently happened to Don Poynter, a spry and good-humored 94-year-old who now lives at Seasons retirement community in Kenwood. From the 1940s into the 2000s, he dreamed up and created humorous, sometimes slightly naughty, occasionally downright bizarre novelty items. Poynter Products had several home bases, most notably a Gest Street warehouse in the West End, and employed as many as 30 people in packaging, assembly, shipping, and national sales. Parts were often imported from overseas, and some specialized manufacturing was contracted out. Poynter himself sold directly to national retailers, including catalog companies.

In 2017, the Museum Center accepted a donation of items from his family, so Poynter recently came to its Geier Collections and Research Center to see them. Registrar Matthew Manninen set out objects with names like Arnold Plumber’s Putter, Jayne Mansfield Hot Water Bottle, Talking Toilet, Mighty Tiny Records, Crooked Dice, and Golfer’s Dream: Hole in One Golf Ball. “That’s just a hole in a golf ball,” Poynter says of the last one, laughing. “A stupid gift.”

Capitalizing on the 1960s TV series The Addams Family, he created The Thing mechanical coin box in which a hand emerged from inside to grab and pull back a coin. It sold 14 million units, he says.

As a child growing up in Westwood—where his father was a portrait painter and photographer—Poynter showed an early propensity for making things. He started creating novelty items in earnest in the 1950s, at a time when Kenner Products made Cincinnati a center for toy manufacturing and Hugh Hefner and others were jazzing up American popular culture. “World War II was over, and people had money and were feeling good,” Poynter says. “They wanted to laugh and have fun.”

At the Geier Center, Poynter inspects his breakthrough novelty item: whiskey-flavored toothpaste. The museum has two different tubes, bourbon and scotch. (He also made a rye version.) While lovingly looking them over, Poynter recalls how he got a $10,000 loan to produce the product from a University of Cincinnati fraternity brother who worked at his father’s bank. “A couple days later, his father asked, ‘What does Poynter want with $10,000? Is he buying a house?’ He says, ‘No, he’s making whiskey-flavored toothpaste.’”

“I’ve had a fascinating life,” he tells Manninen before departing.

The Museum Center will debut a Made in Cincinnati Gallery in 2021 to celebrate notable local manufacturers such as Crosley, Cincinnati Milling Machine (Milacron), and Procter & Gamble as well as smaller companies like Poynter Products. Some objects might also be featured in its new Transportation Gallery next spring.

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