Terrible Jokes from an 1886 Handwritten Gag Book

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In the archives of the New York Public Library Digital Collections is a true one-of-a-kind piece of literature. They call it The Gag Book—a beautifully handwritten collection of vaudevillian jokes and songs from 1886, author unknown. The jokes are carefully numbered, 1-530, and most are absolutely terrible.

It’s an unparalleled look into the non-famous humor of the 19th century, a reminder that it wasn’t all Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde. These were the Saturday-night sitcoms of the old days, illuminating what the average person could be expected to chuckle at. Which was some pretty weird stuff.

What kind of a voice has a washwoman?

A soaprano.

What is the difference between a novel and a lady's bustle?

The novel is a tale founded on fiction. The bustle is a fictitious tail founded on stern reality.

What holds all the snuff in the world?

No one nose.

Do you know Murphy? Yes, well he is weak—he can't stand alone. How is that?

I asked him if he could stand a loan of five dollars and he said no.