Wish Books - Toy Collecting During The Age Of Catalogs

by Jay Cochran
December 24, 2015
By Pixel-Dan

The Holidays and Christmas time has always been a favorite time of year for me. Everything from the cheesy music to the classic holiday specials on TV always help to brighten up my life. The lights, the junk food, and even the family gatherings - I'm a sucker for it all. And for those of us who are collectors, then this time of year also brings back fond memories of the thing we most anticipated on Christmas morning - new toys!

Many of us may now have kids of our own who we can get excited with for the arrival of the holidays. If not kids of your own, maybe nieces, nephews, or perhaps your friends have kids that you don't mind spoiling with a new toy each year. And by now, those kids have already made their wish lists using their smartphones and tablets. They've sent gift ideas via text message or e-mail, created an Amazon Wish List, or pointed to YouTube unboxing videos in an effort to show you what new toys they are hoping to get for Christmas.

We live in a time of instant gratification, thanks to the Internet. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, as it is pretty cool being able to get online and track down exactly what we're looking for, or find out about something new that looks fun just by stumbling upon a video. But it wasn't all that long ago that writing a Christmas Wish List to send to the North Pole was done quite differently.

Growing up in the 1980's, we didn't have this amazing source where we could instantly learn about anything and everything in the toy world. In fact, there were many times that we didn't know about a new toy until we saw it hanging on the shelves in a toy store, or in some cases saw a commercial on TV during Saturday Morning Cartoons. But when the Holidays were near, we knew that we would have a very important tool that would serve as our key source for compiling that ultimate dream list of what we were hoping to find under the Christmas Tree on that special morning. Of course, I'm referring to Department Store Christmas Catalogs!

If you're unfamiliar with these catalogs, allow me to briefly explain why they were so special. Each year as the holiday season neared, stores such as Sears and Montgomery Ward would release these catalogs that featured everything from housewares to clothing, furniture to electronics, and of course toys. These guides were filled with amazing product images and prices, and were meant to give you the option to actually order these items via a phone call. However, I think more times than not, they were used more as reference to see what was out there for potential gift ideas. That's certainly what they were used for in my home.

Each year, my mom would hand these catalogs to me and my siblings and ask us to go through and place our initials next to anything that we may like as a gift for Christmas. It was an easy way for my parents to get an idea of what to get us. But it was so much more to us kids! These catalogs opened up an amazing world of possibilities for treasures that we may be lucky enough to own come Christmas Day!

Flipping through each page of the toy section often times revealed some brand new toys that we never even knew existed! We weren't popping on a YouTube video to watch someone tell us if they think a toy is worth buying, or visiting a toy news website to check out the latest toy reveals of product that would be coming out later in the year. Instead, we were using these Wish Books from Sears and other stores, reading the short descriptions and staring at their amazing photos that always somehow made the toys look even more glamorous than they actually were!

I would spend hours pouring through these catalogs to make certain that I saw and marked every single item that I might potentially want. Everything from action figures to video games often times got marked with my initials. I even found myself getting a little ambitious from time to time by marking the larger, big ticket items. I'm talking the pool tables, air hockey tables, or even the metal detectors. You know, the things that cost way too much that I'd likely only use once or twice. But hey, I knew I wasn't going to get everything I asked for...but it was always worth a shot!

The photographs that these catalogs used to show off the action figures and dolls were such a treat to look at. They were intended to get us excited about these new pieces of plastic, and they worked! In fact, looking through these catalogs today is still very exciting for those of us who have become toy enthusiasts as adults. Photographing a line of action figures in this manner seems to be a bit of a lost art these days. Many of the press pics released by the major toy companies are so boring compared to the intriguing images found within these books.

I don't want to sound like the bitter old grump who thinks the kids have it too easy these days, because let's face it - the Internet, for all of it's faults, has done a pretty amazing job of giving us information on everything, including these old toys we grew up playing with, as well as giving us a place to meet others with similar interests. But it's still fun to think back to a time when things were a little simpler, and it wasn't quite as easy to learn about what new goodies may be hitting those toy stores.

If you have the opportunity to get a hold of one of these old Christmas Wish books from stores like Sears, Montgomery Ward, JC Penny, or even K's Merchandise, I'd highly recommend flipping through it. It will act as a bit of a time machine that will briefly transport you back to your childhood, and flipping the page to see what you may find still holds a little bit of that same excitement we felt when we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of Old Saint Nick.
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