By Chris Stach
A long with the tide of Christmas memories now flooding back into our brains also returns the knowledge that the current Internet shopping sites didn't always exist.
When we were young, we had the Sears Wish Book — the King of Toy Catalogs — that appeared on our doorsteps or in our mailboxes every September. Yes, September. And people talk about Christmas coming too early now? For us kids, Christmas could never come too early! Remember?
In 1962 the Sears Wish Book had a slick red cover showing a little blond girl in a darker red nightgown looking at a Christmas tree, and dreaming of future joys, future toys.
And on the back cover (also Christmassy red) was a "toy" mom would surely love — a Kenmore Washing Machine and Dryer! (Oh, can't you just hear her shrieking with happiness? No?)
We kids eagerly flipped through the pages … but where were all the toys? Well, there were some, but not many. Our lips trembled, our eyes glistened. Was that all there was?
But wait! We were saved! For this first time ever, accompanying the Sears Christmas Wish Book was a wholly separate Sears Toy Catalog, good until Sept. 1, 1963.
And inside that one lay all the treasures, all the stuff of our childhood dreams, ready to be added to a million Christmas lists.
We scooped together several blank pieces of paper (with a few extras), sharpened our pencils or crayons, and quickly got down to serious business.
The cover of the Toy Book wasn't much to look at. A Pinocchio puppet and some stuffed animals — one was Yogi Bear. Thankfully the back cover was not dedicated to anything laundry-related, but to a kids' swimming pool and a swing set. Yes, this was surely our kind of book!
Inside, first thing, were … puppets for sale. Hmm. I kind of expected that.
Further along was a page of erector sets, where you could build anything —ANYTHING! — with thin and flimsy "structural steel" girders that might bend and break and slit open your skin. Bandages not included.
Then came Kenner's Girder and Panel building set. With this you could construct plastic buildings that would never pass village building codes, and roads and bridges with no support under them. This and the erector sets would keep kids out of their parents' hair for hours. Well worth the money!
Next came various sizes of toy pianos, Roy Rogers guitars and other toy musical instruments, including accordions, which would always be popular, right? At least until the Beatles made their appearance in a couple of years.
The board games were all over the map, from Go to the Head of the Class to Dr. Kildare to Jan Murray's Charge Account, one of those games with a million tiny pieces that got lost after the first playing. Who was this Jan Murray guy, anyway? No kid seemed to know.
For $6.66 (that was ominous), you might get the "Think-A-Tron" for Christmas, an early plastic computer-like box-thing that you had to insert cards into to have the dotty-light screen show the impressive letter "T." Mine always seemed to read ERROR 404.
For $1.99 the red, hard plastic Coca Cola Dispenser seemed like a good thing, until you realized you first had to put your own, full, 6.5 ounce Coke bottle into it. Then you pulled down the lever and an ounce of soda gurgled into a really tiny plastic Coca Cola glass. These dispensers are really valuable now.
The Play Fair Market was a one-counter, aqua-colored food store where kids could buy fake food by using fake money (no charge cards) that would fit into the tiniest cash register you ever laid eyes on.
Even though shoppers practically put the items under the checker's nose, there was still a hand operated conveyor belt to move it just a few inches closer. This market came with trading stamps, one shopping cart, a few shopping bags, and was (so it said) "easily assembled."
I never knew anyone who had a kid-size Flintstones Pedal Car, but I would've liked to. With a "simulated leopard skin canopy and a prehistoric sculpted log body of tough plastic" (looking only vaguely log-like), it had dual headlights and an incredibly ugly horn that beeped.
The deal breaker was probably the cost $23.77, a lot back in 1962. You could also buy an extra canopy, separate—although why you'd want one … Still, this pedal car is probably worth a fortune today if any exist anymore.
My sisters never had one of those "easy to assemble, just her size" kitchens, with sink and stove and fridge all made of lightweight steel or crackable, scratchable fiberboard. I never cared one way or another about these.
But I approved of them getting those Junior Chef Food Mix Sets, with little pots and pans to make real frosted Swansdown cakes, cream puffs, pies, puddings, cookies. Yes, the way to a boy's heart was through his stomach! (Easy Bake Ovens didn't exist yet.)
Barbie and Ken were already around for three years, and the accessories were multiplying. There were outfits for both Barbie and Ken, her own wardrobe and four-poster bed, her sports car (girl-hand powered), and a portable house that even came with a TV/stereo cabinet and record albums, but oddly enough, no kitchen. I guess Barbie did a lot of eating out.
Lego bricks made their appearance here, as the Lego System by Samsonite. Yes, the same company who made (and still make) luggage. Imagine a suitcase made entirely out of Lego Bricks … how long would it stay together at an airport?
Several pages later were the usual footballs, pogo sticks, basketball nets, baseball pitching machines (gloves extra), and spring coil Jumping Shoes, to make you feel "like you're on a trampoline!" Don't worry mom! It says right here that the "rubber bottom bumpers protect floors." I have to take 'em outside? Aw, gee whiz, mom!
Keen! On page 450 were toy robots! Four of them were made in Japan, and who knew more about making robots than the Japanese? There was Mr. Mercury, who walked, bent, grasped and lifted stuff; a kind of fat looking astronaut holding a ray gun; the "Automatic Mr. Atomic" with a built in Computer Panel; and a crawling, wind-up robot crab.
Next up was the Remco Barracuda Atomic Submarine (Battery-powered. Atoms extra.) "Polaris missiles fire automatically." Uh, oh. "Nuclear Reactor flashes red." Um, didn't that mean a meltdown was in progress? Ah, those little things we kids never knew about back then.
President Kennedy wanted us to go to the moon, and toymakers agreed. They made the "Let's Land on [a] realistic model of [the] moon with [the] U.S. Space Team" set, including 65 pieces of space equipment, including three rockets and a big moon crater, no less. Cheaper than the real space program at $8.88! Astronauts and "moon men" were included.
Back down to earth were three solid pages of road-racing sets, ranging in price from $11.59 to $49.95. Once you set up the racing tracks, you could control the slot cars' speeds. From then on, on the curved sections, you could see how long the cars took to fly off the tracks and careen wildly across the floor. Just like on a real raceway!
Even though our Christmas lists were finally finished, we didn't send right them off to Santa, or show them to our parents (in case Santa ran out of certain toys.) Nope. We rescanned the pages in case we'd missed anything. That's what the extra blank paper was for.
Ah, that was the Sears Wish Book/Toy Catalog for Christmas 1962. It wasn't the Internet, but it was good enough for us … and good enough to remember.