In this age of prolific digital marketing campaigns, it’s hard to imagine a time when you had to wait for a catalog to arrive before any serious toy shopping could begin.
This year, retail heavyweights Amazon, Walmart, and Target rolled out printed toy catalogs in October, providing consumers with a convenient and safety-conscious alternative to shopping in crowded stores. Despite the inclusion of some high-tech bells and whistles like QR codes, the printed catalogs remain true to their historical roots, helping children discover new toys and dog-ear pages in hopes the adults in their lives will take note.
The emphasis on print media provides a perfect opportunity to highlight two online repositories of iconic holiday toy catalogs that capture the age-old childhood feeling of discovery and desire. The sites also offer a fascinating look into how toys, culture, and advertising have evolved over the years.
SEARS WISH BOOK
On wishbookweb.com, curator Jason Liebig has painstakingly documented over 25,000 pages of Sears Wish Book content from as far back as 1937. In addition to full-color scans of various catalogs, Liebig includes holiday releases from other retailers, including Spiegel, Wards, FAO Schwarz, and JCPenney.
Each catalog is presented using software that allows readers to select text and turn virtual pages, complete with optional sound effects.
ARGOS BOOK OF DREAMS
Like the Sears Wish Book in the US and Canada, the Argos Book of Dreams has long been a source of gift-giving (and receiving) inspiration for the holiday season in the UK.
Last year, Argos assembled a digital repository of vintage catalogs from the previous forty-six years of the book’s print run. This year, the company phased out its printed catalog entirely and removed the online archive. Fortunately, the collector community came to the rescue.
Curator Michael Hay of the cultural ephemera website, retromash.com, has assembled an online cache of Argos catalogs dating back to the first release in 1973. Like wishbookweb.com, “flipping book” software allows for page-turning, image zooming, and text-based search.
Todd Coopee is Editor-in-Chief of Toy Tales, an online publication that covers toys and games past and present.