Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Old Sears Wish Book

When I was ten in 1967, I got the notion that I wanted to save that year's Sears Christmas catalog "for posterity." I was a nerdy kid, interested in science but more interested in history than I realized. Partly aided by the fact that my parents rarely threw anything away, I managed to keep the catalog all these years, although I hadn't seen it lately. It reappeared this past summer when I sorted boxes in our basement storage room.

How interesting to look at the prices of things: board games were around $3, construction toys 8 to 10 dollars, talking dolls about $10, men's suits about $30, an 18-inch TV about $120. I found this site which features several representative pages. That year, the catalog was Dennis the Menace themed. After I placed this picture of the catalog on Facebook, a classmate commented she had fallen in love with a big toy collie in that same catalog and had begged her parents for it. I found it on page 582 and shared the picture with my friend.

I leafed through the pages and smiled at the different clothing styles, especially the 60s women's dresses. I wondered whether I'd recognize any of the toys I might have gotten for Christmas that year, and I'm guessing I got the chemistry set and the microscope. From this site, I see that 1967 was the last year the catalog was called the Christmas Book; in 1968 it officially became The Wish Book, as it had been informally called for years. Enterprising preservationists have scanned several vintage catalogs for their site http://www.wishbookweb.com.

For as long as they were produced, the big semi-annual catalogs from Sears, Penney's, Montgomery Ward, and other stores were enjoyable for many of us. But the Christmas catalogs were especially thrilling for generations of kids. Although A Christmas Story's Ralphie didn't reference the Wish Book, his joyful declaration about Christmas expresses humorously the feeling many of us had when the catalog came: "We plunged into the cornucopia quivering with desire and the ecstasy of unbridled avarice." What a wonderful, shared cultural experience of searching the pages of toys, games, and other treasures in advance of Santa's arrival!

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