Where is the Wish Book?

After leafing through a small catalog mailer checking out the two page kid section, it was certainly far from grand as I remembered during my time when the Wish Book came in the mail at our house….just about this time of year, every year. For those that remember, The Wish Book was every child’s hopes and dreams to be eternally satisfied in gifts from Santa for the holiday season. The Wish Book was every parents dream to keep us busy marking the pages, even cutting out, and highlighting the most important choices that would be wrapped and placed under our Christmas tree. I made excuses to stay on the potty longer than usual, my posterior sore just to intensely study and plan with my Wish Book. This was no flimsy flyer. Published by Sears in the forties, fifties and 1960’s holiday additions where over 400 pages in length. In 1964,1968, and 1969 proudly boasted over 600 pages and it took two hands to carry. I finally cut out the Barbie I wanted and carried that around until Christmas.

How beautiful the dolls…. dressed in ruffles and fairyland colors just like it says in the book in 1964. There was Betsy Wetsy, the tiny kissing cousins, the exceptional Thumbelina. Barbie, Ken, Midge, Allan and Skipper, Barbies new dream house, vinyl cases and sculptured doll carriages priced as low as $4.98. Then there were pages of vanities with neatly filled cosmetic trays, Little Hostess Buffet, All in I kitchen in corrugated card board as well as all steel play kitchens and fully furnished Split level houses of sturdy steel for under $10.00 along with phonographs that never needed a tube replacement. There were tuck and touch needlepoint sets that were never that easy. There were paint by number which were my favorite that I still do.

Of course there were the 3 speed bikes, Gilbert train sets, Ford J slot cars, Gemini rocket to blast to the moon,walkiestalkies with code buttons to send secret messages. There were the electric build it sets and basic science club kits, chemical sets and wood burning sets in all shapes and sizes with an actual analog computer for only 5.88. Gas and battery powered miniature cars and planes and at one point motorized erector sets. Make things work boys, with your own 53 piece workshop with a workbench to match for under 20 dollars. And there were plenty of guns from the newest assault rifle to the western marshal outfit.

We both had view masters with our collection of pictures from Cinderella, Bambi, Batman and the Man from Uncle as well as an etch a sketch for under 3 dollars. I guess those were like our cell phones today. We both played music. For the boys, it was Roy Rogers Guitar, an accordion and girls tended to receive pianos in all different sizes.

And what about the games for the entire family? There was dominos, chess, checkers of all types,along with CandyLand, Cootie House, Dr. Kildare, Lie Detector, Dick Tracy, Snakes Alive, battery operated table top Pinballs.

And believe it or not, my wish book has finally arrived once again. Not in the form of back breaking print but I can peruse through the pages of several Sears catalogs from my time at Wishbookweb.com. I can thumb through the entire catalog while sitting on the potty with my phone.

I wonder if I could place an order too!

Aww…..the good old days!

Celebrating 70 years of Colorforms

When assisting in kindergarten in past years, the kids would share their version of colorforms with me knowing it was my favorite game to play as a child myself. But just last week I walked into a kids store and there they were…the original colorforms…dressing up for the weather just like when I was kid in the 1960’s but modernized. I also remember dressing up Tammy, the Beatles in 1964 and for the boys they gravitated to Batman and Scooby Do. In the 1990’s, my son enjoyed Colorfoms when he wanted to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Curious George. Colorforms is easy with shapes cut from vinyl and can cling to a smooth background making your own special design. Colorforms is one of the most loved and respected toys beginning with the couple Harry and Patricia Kislevitz in 1951.

The first Colorforms® set was hand-cut: a thimble, a bottle, and a medicine container top were just some of the shapes that would become the foundation of the very first Colorforms set, designed by Patricia, and now housed in the Museum of Modern Art in its permanent collection. Colorforms® first launched through FAO Schwarz.  Colorforms first launched through FAO Schwarz and in 1957 Popeye became the first licensed cartoon character to be featured in a Colorforms set.

In the 2000’s, though Internet use boomed, Colorforms came alive with Harry Potter, Sponge Bob, Dora the Explorer and the Hungry Caterpillar. In 2011, Time magazine awarded Colorforms as the toy of all time. In 2014, Out of the Blue Enterprise acquired Colorforms. Billions of sets have been sold and Colorforms continues to make the best plastic creative toys and I continue to gravitate towards any student who is playing with a set. I can’t wait to play.

Legos: May the 4th be with you

We still play with Legos at a break in elementary school but they truly began for me with babysitting boys who could not get enough in the late 1960’s and Lego’s were difficult to use. You really needed an imagination and I was fascinated by the young boys who worked with just using colorful interlocking bricks; creating their own designs. Some sets had wheels to make trains, cars, and ladders for fire trucks. In the late 1970’s, there were tiny Lego men. In the 1980’s, there was a King’s castle. In the early 1990s, my son loved Legos and there was a variety of themes which included pirates and building pirate ships. Late 1990′,s found the first Stars Wars Set while the company launched its first website and its first computer game.

In the 2000s, it was all about Harry Potter whose series and movies were introduced. The first sets were introduced in 2001 to coincide with the film. Sets were released with the other films. More sets were released in 2018 and today you can get sets like Diagon Alley and Hogwarts Castle.

According to sources, The Lego Group began manufacturing the interlocking toy bricks in 1949. Movies, games, competitions and eight Lego Land amusement parks have been developed under the brand. As of July 2015, 600 billion Lego parts had been produced. Currently, you can actually purchase kits by age with suggested ideas as early two years old up to 18 and above.

Today, May 4th Be With you is offering a new Star Wars design. You can add the Imperial Probe Droid™ to your LEGO® Star Wars™ collection. The droid has posable legs and comes with a transparent, brick-built pole to ‘suspend’ it above a buildable snowy scene. Explore a new galaxy of Star Wars Sets.

Ebay Lego sets are very reasonable and many come with instruction manuals. The most expensive Lego, a 4 karat gold brick, sold in an auction for 19,793. Lego gave 2×4 gold bricks to select business partners between 1979 and 1981. Fewer than ten bricks are believed to exist today. Millenium Falcon, Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal have been popular in the market selling for thousands.

Two Chicago commuters create Tinkertoys

By Caryl Clem:

Conversations about the lack of job satisfaction formed an unlikely friendship between a tombstone engraver and a young grain stock broker Chicago commuters on their ride home to Evanston.  Charles Pajeau had graduated from Chicago’s Harvard Boys School taking engineering classes. He dreamed of entering the toy market. 

Charles Pajeau observed children playing daily with wooden spools that had holes placing various size sticks  and pencils to create objects while Robert Pettit had noticed wealthy children  quickly becoming bored with toys.  Pajeau invented rounded wooden circles with 45 degree angle holes on the sides and one on top. This design allowed endless possibilities to place sticks to create right triangles as a base for construction. In 1914 the two men blended their resources to open Toy Tinkers Inc.  located in Pajeaus basement at 325 Greenwood Avenue Evanston.

The toy was packaged in a tin can sitting on shelves at cigar stores and newsstands that first Christmas in 1914.  The sales the first Christmas were less than promising. Chicago area retail stores thought the tin can packaging was not worthy of elaborate window displays Pajeau tried to start. Eager to expand his market, Pajeau traveled to New York to advertise in a window display.  Key traffic areas in New York on 34th and Broadway, Grand Central Station and Macy have promoted this educational toy to inspire future builders of America. A showroom featured Tinkertoys at 200 Fifth Avenue. The production by 1915 was 900,000 sets.

Advertising exposure with product expansion, adding an electric motor, rustic Lincoln Log sets appeared Erector sets increase building designs meant total sales soared to over 6 million during the 1919 Christmas season.  By 1947, Tinker toys made Illinois the third biggest state in toy manufacturing. Pajeau served his employees coffee, lunch, and built exercise facilities. In 1964 the Charles H. and Grace F.  Pajeau Children’s Foundation was begun to raise money for underprivileged and needy children. 

The pure joy to see a creation you built is ageless.  I had a Lincoln Log set I inherited from my older brother. On days I needed to feel like I could conquer the world, I would empty the can on the floor. Time passed while I imagined building the first homestead with a relative.  Proof of a successful venture took shape in my hands. By dinnertime, I went downstairs with more confidence to face the world.  Research has shown that Tinker toys play a critical role for the brain to form spatial relationships and has been used in studies to build team management skills

Sales remain strong in company that has changed ownership 6 times; the current owner is Hasbro Corp. of Central Falls, R.I.   The 100 plus year company has an exhibit, the “Toys of Yesteryear” at the Lakeside Historical Society.    Information about what the “tinker men” created in Evanston can be found at Evanston Historical Society.  The Chicago Museum collection includes Tinker toys. Tinker toy is a member of the National Toy Hall of Fame.  A toy encouraging creative building will never be obsolete.

Top of the list in 2020 gifts : Barbie’s Dream house (1962)

One day, I overheard the first grade girls in my class talking about the big present they wanted for Christmas. According to them, everyone gets a big present so I asked what they wanted….I heard them say it was 3 stories. Actually, they showed me a picture of the latest and greatest…the Barbie Dreamhouse. But what they didn’t know, that I quickly shared was the first dreamhouse for Barbie was created in 1962 and I got it for Christmas under the tree the first year it came out…hah hah…the big present... I even have a faded movie of me playing with the house. When I showed them a picture, they were not impressed.

The house I got was made of paper and cardboard. You could fold it up and carry it like a suitcase. It was a one room design with everything in it including bed, sofa, and console with stereo and TV. My father hated putting the furniture together but I took special care of it. It lasted until my college days. It had been stored in a basement and there was a flood. That was the end of that. I still want another one!

In the early 1970’s, the townhouse had been three stories and partially plastic with a working elevator and the furniture was plastic. It showcased a patio with a pool painted on one side of the back wall as well her own study or office. But 1979, they produced an A- frame house which I always wanted, a real one that is. It had working doors and windows including six rooms and was very realistic. At this time, they created mirrored top coffee tables and end tables….furniture I had and still do. 

I also liked the early townhomes Barbie had in the early 1980’s. Loved the paintings on the wall and depicted the great 80’s style of wicker, especially white. There was also a dream cottage which was one story with a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom as well as a pool area.

Now in the early 1990’s, what my daugther’s generation always wanted was the magical mansion that was two stories, sx rooms, with working lights. The windows truly reflected 90’s culture. It featured a working fireplace that lit up as well as a working telephone and doorbell but my daughter thought it was just too pink. In 1998, a castle type, Victorian house was created that had stained glass windows and bay windows.

In the early 2000’s, the house became three stories with a toilet that actually flushed. In 2014, the house with three stories and two elevators. Today, the Barbie DreamHouse measures an impressive 3+ feet tall and 4+ feet wide and features 3 stories, 8 rooms and 70+ accessories. Special amenities include a working elevator, home office, carport and second-story pool. Barbie also has a Malibu cottage and her own plane. For over 60 years old, she is quite the celebrity and quite the jettsetter.

Anyone who is interested in purchasing the original dream house, Ebay offers an excellent selection of my Barbie house and one that actual includes record albums that were popular at the time and almost as much money as the houses today. Boy, I don’t remember the albums and it looked like one of them was of Frank Sinatra…not impressed. Now, if I could find an album that represented the beginnings of rock and roll, I…………….

American Girl

It was Samantha Parkington that was all the rage for many.  My daughter loved the doll and got one along with a look alike doll. I loved the books. But it was the Bitty Baby that truly brings back special and sometimes emotional holiday feelings. Christmas 2000 my daughter really wanted the Bitty Baby and under the tree on Christmas morning, there was nothing with the excuse told to her that we just couldn’t afford it. Later that morning, we traveled to the nursing home to see my Mother who would die later that summer. She handed my daughter the wrapped box and still had no idea the Bitty Baby was inside. She thought when first looking at the box that it was just too small for a baby doll. She was hoping up until the last minute that the doll would be hers forever; still is in a neatly wrapped storage box along with Samantha.

American Girl is an American line of 18-inch dolls released in 1986 by Pleasant Company. The dolls portray today eight- to twelve-year-old girls of a variety of ethnicity, time periods of origin, faiths, and social classes.Originally, the stories published into books focused on various periods of American history, but were expanded in 1995 to include characters and stories from contemporary life. Aside from the original American Girl dolls, the buyer also has the option to purchase dolls that look like themselves.

Bitty Baby was an American Girl line of 15″ infant baby dolls for children ages 3 and up. Bitty Baby’s arms, legs, and head are made from vinyl. A precursor to the line called Our New Baby was first released in 1990,which consisted of Caucasian (with blond hair), African-American, and Asian-American variants. The dolls were marketed as a way to get children to adjust to having a young baby in the house. The dolls were gender neutral, unlike the later Bitty Baby; it was expected that the doll could be a younger boy or girl.

The American Girl series, by various authors, is a collection of novels set within toy line’s fictional universe. Since its inception, American Girl has published books based on the dolls, with novels and other media to tie in with their dolls. The books follow various American girls throughout both historical eras and contemporary settings.The historical novels that have corresponding dolls are referred to as the Central Series such as Samantha Parkington, Kirsten Larsen, Molly McIntire.  And I read them all even trying my hand at writing one and sending it to the publishing company.

A related series entitled History Mysteries, also known as Mysteries Through Time and/or Mysteries through History was released by American Girl in 1999 and discontinued in 2004. The series comprises a total of 22 books by various authors and forms a companion series to the popular American Girl books; unlike Girl of the Year and other lines, they do not come with any doll or toy and acts as a stand-alone novel set in a particular period in American history.

Today, all dolls purchased actually come with a book. For 2020, American girl has a new doll with a hearing loss. She is a competitive surfer that lives in California named Joss.

And the dolls of my daughter’s childhood are now considered antique and worth some money. Just like mine. One Samantha doll with her original outfit and accessories recently sold on eBay for $400. And the original Bitty baby can be found right now for under $50 dollars with only a few scratches.

Chatty Cathy is 60 years old!

I was fortunate because my father was a home movie nut…all of them successfully transferred for every birthday and holiday so I have not forgotten the dolls and toys I got for both. My first baby doll was Tiny Tears and I received a to die for blue carriage under the Christmas tree to walk her in. And a new friend for Tiny Tears sat in a box; Chatty Cathy with auburn hair, soft face and cloth speaker, and pull string in the back. I still have her but a few years after getting her when I was in elementary school, a friend cut her bangs and put her in the bath tube. She gargled for a long time and I cried. Today, however, she is mute.

Chatty Cathy was a pull string “talking” doll manufactured by the Mattel toy company from 1959 to 1965. The doll was first released in stores and appeared in television commercials beginning in 1960, with a suggested retail price of $18.00, catalog advertisements usually priced the doll under $10.00. Chatty Cathy was on the market for six years and was the second most popular doll of the 1960s.  Brunette and auburn haired versions of the doll were introduced in 1962 and 1963 respectively as well as an African American doll. The original Chatty had a red dress replaced by a pink and white striped dress with a white pinafore called “Pink Peppermint Stick.”  There was also a red velvet coat and her Sunday dress ( still have with a few threads missing)

Chatty Cathy “spoke” one of eleven phrases at random when the “chatty ring” protruding from its upper back was pulled. I love you, please take me with you, let’s play house, please brush my hair, will you play with me, were some of the words but her mouth did not move.

If you research the value of the vintage Chatty Cathy doll, you will find a variety of dolls in different conditions, many different versions and different prices but a well-preserved Chatty can get alot of money….actually thousands of dollars.

Bargain town/South Chicago/Toys R Us

We would go to Steel City Bank in South Chicago and then Gassman’s clothing store for my mother to try on numerous outfits that took forever. However, if I waited patiently outside of the dressing room, our next stop would be Bargain Town. A slinky was only 68 cents! And walkie talkies were under 10 dollars, a lot cheaper than cell phones today.

It was Bargain Town where I remember the aisle crowded with my favorite colorforms; the Jetsons, Dress designers, Barbie, Crazy shapes and the Addams Family. If not in the mood, I would take my time picking out a paint by number. Generally, it was an autumn landscape with oil paints. The paint by number assumed a usual routine at home.

It was set up on a card table in the family den in front of the TV.  It was right before dinner that my Mother and Dad would have their 5:30 cocktail and I would be watching Garfield Goose along with spilling my creativity in front of me. I was allowed to have a small glass of 50 /50 soda.  Oil paint landscapes that would take me alot of time were always my first choice. They still are today. I have a winter and summer print I hang over my fireplace during the appropriate seasons.

After Bargain Town, we would head to the new Jewel in South Chicago before we went home, now CVS pharmacy.

According to That’s It, back in 1948, Charles Lazarus – the founder of Toys”R”Us, opened his very first store in Washington, D.C. called Children’s Bargain Town. It wasn’t until he opened his second store almost 10 years later that he adopted the name we’ve all come to know and love. And that is how the legacy of Toys”R”Us began. Bargain Town also offered nursery items, cribs and baby furniture as well as bicycles. Bicycles cost about 30 dollars. And crown pools that you could set up in the backyard were under 100 dollars.

In the 1990’s, my children could walk to the nearest Toys R Us and for my son, anything Power Rangers would work. My daughter loved board games and art sets; her eyes wide as she studied the massive collection.

The company has been in the toy business for 70 years and operates around 800 stores in the United States and around 800 outside the US, although these numbers are steadily decreasing with time. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. on 18 September 2017, and has also filed for bankruptcy protection in Canada.

Charles Lazarus, 94, no longer held a stake in the chain and founded the company 70 years ago, just passed away last week. His passing was one week after the company announced it will be forced to shut down its U.S. operations. Many believed that he was the king of toys.

Check out A Tribute to Children’s Bargain Town USA Toy Store in Chicago on Facebook

Now, back to my painting. I even have an easel now!