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This Online Wish Book Catalog Archive Is Toy Nostalgia Nirvana

It’s a hard road ahead for toy fans. With Toys R Us preparing to liquidate, and FAO Schwartz and Kay-Bee no longer things that are around, the age of the toy store is pretty much up. And it’s not because kids don’t want toys, though they do tend to be less interested nowadays in action figures than they are in video games; the toy retail business just handled their debt in such a way that it piled on above any profits they could possibly make. Sure, the stuff you want can be found online, but part of the thrill of the toy store was to discover things you didn’t know about, or to line up at midnight on “Force Friday” to befriend and fight other collectors for Rey’s LEGO speeder.

But back in the day, there was another way to discover new toys: the holiday Christmas catalog, epitomized by the Sears Wish Book. Parents would use it to place orders, but kids would stare for days on end at all the toys out there, especially since Sears had a penchant for photographing multiple toys together in larger scenarios that stimulated imaginations and made us want them all. The days of the Wish Book are also over, but a website called Wishbook Web has reconstructed the catalogs by scanning every page and putting them online for you to flip through. They begin with 1937, when all the toys seemed to be based on the idea of one-upping your parents. Girls were encouraged to play pretend housework “just like Mom,” while boys could run a barnyard “even better than Dad’s big farm.”

1962’s version of action figure playsets included a golf course, with athletes who could really swing with the dialing of a knob. Exciting!

Also, the most terrifying Jiminy Cricket marionette ever. Is he whispering in Olive Oyl’s ear that she should ditch Popeye for Bluto?

1986 is basically peak toy, with many of the properties that we still talk about today: Star Wars, Transformers, Masters of the Universe, most of which sported massive, big-ticket items like He-Man’s Eternia (featured image, above) and the 7.5 foot aircraft carrier the USS Flagg. But then there were those you may not remember as well, like that oh-so-kid-friendly property Rambo. (Now you’re playing with PTSD!)

Note the generic “military machine” on the far right: Sears would often try to slip in cheaper, generic vehicles on the same page as similar properties to catch the eyes of gullible kids and easily confused parents.

The archive goes up to the 1996 JC Penney catalog, which may have been a formative influence on younger Zack Snyder.

Sure, you can surf and it might give you a recommendation or three that you’ve never seen, but there was nothing like the thrill of the catalog arrival, or the nights spent staring at the new characters and wondering what adventures you’d act out once they were in hand.

Am I just talking crazy nostalgia, or do you miss the days of actual physical catalogs too? Which of the vintage toys do you wish you could buy now? Let’s hear you in comments.

Images: Sears, JC Penney via Wishbook Web



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