Yes, I know that Christmas, or any other religious holiday for that matter, shouldn’t be all about receiving presents. But around this time of year, I can’t help thinking back to the days when the arrival of the Sears Christmas catalog — later called the Sears Wish Book — meant the beginning of the holiday season for kids across the country.
Sears is facing rough times right now, and it may not be long for this retail world. Back in the pre-digital age, however, brick & mortar stores found themselves competing with home delivery giants like Sears, which also had their own bustling retail outlets.
But no matter how big the Sears department store, it couldn’t compete with all the goodies in the Christmas catalog. I don’t think I was alone in spending hours turning the pages, daydreaming of what it would be like to have all those toys! For most of us, it was pure fantasy, but it fueled our imaginations in the process.
Here are a few pages from a 1966 edition I bought off of eBay a few years ago:
Remember the View-Master? It gave us vivid, color, stereo views of people, places, and stories from all over the world, courtesy of photo reels that turned with a small hand-operated lever. Nowadays, with Google and YouTube available to give us an endless array of photos and video, it may be hard to imagine just how cool it was to stare into a View-Master.
Many of the toys and accompanying marketing were very gender-specific. I spent a lot of time looking at the toys for boys, like the spy kits above and the GI Joe sets below.
Paging through this 1966 catalog, you might be stunned at the many toy guns and military playthings. Memories of the Second World War were very fresh, and the heaviest protests over Vietnam were a few years away.
Of course, the girls had plenty of their own pages as well. Barbie was huge, as you can tell. It’s around this time that toys like the Easy Bake Oven appeared. I have to say I envied the girls for this one — the thought of making and consuming cakes and cookies at will was quite appealing!
Before cassettes, 8-track tapes, CDs, and now MP3s, we had records and early attempts at tape players. Here’s an example of the latter, and if you look closely you can read the names of some of the featured performing artists.
Today, Amazon probably is the heir to the big Sears catalogs that plopped onto our steps every few months. Like the Sears catalogs, it seems to have everything. Amazon is also, of course, the biggest threat to brick-and-mortar stores, including Sears.
But I’ll relegate debates over the social and economic desirability of these developments to other writings, and simply leave you with the memories of days of being lost in a child’s world of toys.