Saturday, December 17, 2016

Wish Book catalogs

This is one of those things my generation remembers, that the current kid-generation probably won't know. The idea of large department store chains (JC Penneys and Sears were the ones I remember) sending out catalogs, usually around Thanksgiving, that had far more offerings than a typical mall-store had.

You could order from the catalog and have it mailed directly and there may also have been an "order and pick up at the store"option, I don't remember.

But the "wish books" (as they were known) were a big thing of my childhood. Advertising of toys on tv existed, but there were fewer kid-oriented tv hours so we often didn't see what we wanted on tv. (Also, my favorite toys - stuffed animals - were fairly static and generally didn't get advertised on tv). So the wish books were how we learned about toys, and how we took the time to decide what we wanted.

Heh. I remember how mercenary we could be - we put page numbers down in our letters to Santa. (I believed in a literal Santa to a ridiculously late age as a child.)

We also used to play a game, lying on the floor side by side or sitting side by side at a table, flipping through the catalog and deciding if we could have one toy on the page, which one, and why.

I don't think the big merchants do wish books any more (and anyway, Sears is pretty much moribund, or so it seems). You do see something like "catalogs" in the Sunday newspapers when Toys R Us or some other store runs an ad. (It's interesting: Farm and Fleet up where my parents live has a "Toyland" but in addition to the typical Barbies and La La Loopsies and My Little Ponies, they also feature ERTL farm toys and Schleich farm animal toys. I guess farm kids still like to play with farm toys, and that fact makes me happy.)

And you can see some of the old catalogs online: Wish Book Web has good-quality scans of old catalogs, some as old as the 1930s. (I looked at the 1980s JC Penney one, and saw some of the toys I had - and some I wanted but didn't get). I can't link directly to any one page because the widget they use to show the scans doesn't work that way, but you can go and search around if you like.

Wait, maybe I can save a page and reproduce it here:

Yup. (And you knew that was going to be what I chose, right? I would have been a junior in high school when this catalog came out, so "too old" to ask for toys from it but probably not too old to look at it.)

I kind of miss those kinds of catalogs. Amazon and the like are very nice, but there was a serendipity to the catalogs - finding something you weren't specifically looking for.

1 comment:

Don said...

The mention of wish books reminded me of this:

“At around age 6 while living in Korea, I somehow came to have a spiffy catalog from America that listed all Fisher-Price toys that were available for mail-order. The catalog had all these incredible toys that neither I nor any of my friends have ever seen. I read that catalog so many times, imagining playing with those toys, until the catalog eventually disintegrated in my hands one day.
“The catalog was the book that confirmed to me — who was six, mind you — that America must be the best and the greatest country in the world. Later when I came to America, my faith was validated.”

—Influential Books, from Ask A Korean.

My wish books were seed catalogues, which would arriving every day this time of year. I was particularly fond of the old Stokes Seeds calatogues, which usually listed the weight of seeds — ounce for ounce, Calceolaria seed was far more valuable than gold. Since their seeds were as true as Sir Galahad, the catalogue included a large picture of the knight.

(I'm getting error messages when I try to post this. If there are duplicate comments, please delete them. Thank you.)