Most of you aren’t ready to go full tilt with the holiday season, but if you wanna get your feet wet, I have just the thing: Awesome toys from a really old Christmas catalog!
Below are nine highlights from the 1983 Consumers Distributing catalog. If you’ve never heard of Consumers, it was like a looser Service Merchandise. (Better yet, learn more in my coverage of the Consumers 1984 catalog, which includes another bunch of amazing toys!)
These items will help you a remember a time when nothing in the world mattered more than four bucks’ worth of plastic… an idealistically simple view that helps to explain why so many of us still collect action figures over 30 years later!
G.I. Joe Three-Packs!
Price: $7.97 each
Because bad guys get the best lines and the coolest clothes, I’m more enamored with the three-pack on the right, featuring the original Cobra Commander, Destro and Major Bludd figures. Bludd’s just kinda tagging along, but the other two are among my generation’s most adored action figures, from any line.
Here’s a kick in the balls: To collect those same three figures in their original packaging now would run you somewhere in the area of a thousand bucks. No exaggeration. I want you to sit there and think about every toy you had as a kid, and how many private islands you’d own today had you not opened any of them.
Oooh, this one brings back memories! As much as I liked that E.T. figure with his weird extending neck, the real treat was the Speak & Spell accessory. For the few who aren’t aware, the Speak & Spell seen in E.T. wasn’t just a movie prop — it was a legit toy that pretty much everyone my age had.
As a child, I became irrationally obsessed with that tiny nonfunctional Speak & Spell. I’d carry it around and pretend that it could do far more than real Speak & Spells could. Typically, I’d sit at the dining room table and fake-remember some important detail, just so I could publicly punch its little cosmetic buttons.
For a while, I honestly believed that my family bought into it.
Rub-a-Dub Doggie was one of my generation’s favorite bath toys, and one of the few designated bath toys that still felt like a real toy. (Hopefully that makes sense? If not, you can just marvel at how many times I used “toy” in one sentence.)
The cute pooch resembled a more cartoony Pound Puppy, with softish skin and fluffy “doll ears.” All of his parts were safe in water, to the point where you could shampoo his ears without any lasting damage. Given how so many other toys treated water like it was Judge Doom’s unholy mix of turpentine, acetone and benzene, owning just one that truly loved swimming meant a lot.
Course, the best thing about Rub-a-Dog Doggie isn’t shown in the picture. Each doll came with a bone-shaped sponge, which for some reason was REAL EXCITING SHIT to three-year-olds.
Skeletor & Panthor!
Price: $3.97 & $5.47
Eeek, a double whammy! That Skeletor action figure is the absolute first Christmas present I can remember getting, back when I was literally young enough to still have a crib in my room. (And this isn’t some falsified memory conjured up for an easy paragraph. There’s actual photographic evidence of this. Fittingly, I’m shown chewing my new Skeletor’s hand.)
Panthor dusts off some memories too, but his are colder. That figure may very well represent my first experience with conscious jealousy. My childhood best friend got him before I could, and one stroke of that purple cat’s flocked hide made me seethe in ways I didn’t wholly understand.
I remember just sitting there in his bedroom, imagining slights so I wouldn’t have to admit that I hated him simply because he had Panthor and I did not. I take this as proof that we are all born terrible, and should not strive to be good people as much as to just act like them.
Skeletor Helmet & Weapon Set!
And hey, speaking of Skeletor, I totally had that costume set. It was one of those things that came and left quickly. God knows what happened to it, but I distinctly recall holding onto the shield for far longer than the other pieces… and being perpetually pissed that the shittiest part of the set was the only one that I still had.
Despite the subtle suggestion that the set on the right represented He-Man, it didn’t. That was part of the unrelated Sword & Sorcery line. Note how the child model seems tentative, clearly aware that the kid playing Skeletor got the long straw.
Price: $24.97 – $31.97
This pile of games for various systems includes quite a few for the Atari 2600, which was already in our old house even before I was born. By the time I was old enough to do more with video games than blow raspberries at the people who played them, my brothers no longer cared about their Atari, and it became “my” system.
Inheriting their library along with the 2600, I’d say that I had around 20 games, from Pac-Man to Adventure to Yars’ Revenge. I wasn’t very good at them, and usually just used the cartridges to build little forts for my action figures. (I can’t be the only one who discovered that Atari cartridges were the perfect ingredients for more durable houses of cards, can I?)
Though I’d later make the mistake of choosing an Atari 7800 over a Nintendo Entertainment System, it wasn’t until I got a Nintendo that I really, truly cared about video games. Even so, Atari owns my first gaming memories… and also my first memories of giving Luke Skywalker a really stupid castle.
Casio VL-1 Mini Keyboard!
I’m featuring this spread specifically for the keyboard on top, which — like the Atari — was another thing that I inherited after some older family member got bored of it.
I. LOVED. THAT. KEYBOARD. The key (hah, key!) thing was its size. It was small enough to carry anywhere, so in the spirit of excess, I of course decided to carry it everywhere.
I mostly remember taking it across the street while my friends were playing outside, and hitting random buttons until it settled into one of its automatic underscores. Then I’d join them, and we’d have music to sweeten our games of tag.
Like, picture a New Order song with no vocals and no guitars and no drums. Strip The Perfect Kiss down until all you hear are the sound effects from Frogger. That’s the kind of shit we were listening to, and though I knew it wasn’t awesome, I still swore that it was.
Star Wars Figures!
Price: $2.57 each
Star Wars figures truly brought out the artists in retail set designers, and this orchestration was no exception. The figures practically look like they’re on Mars!
We can still admire the aesthetics, but as kids, the well ran deeper. We’d see Star Wars toys photographed over rocks and dirt and sand and water, and suddenly we’d need to do the same things with our toys. I think every kid lost a few figures in the yard, and it’s not just because we wanted fresh air.
Special shoutout to the Emperor’s Royal Guard, and Luke in his super goth Jedi outfit. Two of the line’s very best figures, and why? They both included bits of real fabric! (I can never overstate how important real fabric was. The saffron of action figure materials!)
Price: $7.97 – $8.97
This is an odd inclusion, but I have my reasons. Namely, those salads. Not the bowls, mind you. I mean the actual salads. One of my favorite things about paging through these old catalogs is seeing the hilariously obsolete ideas about food preparation. These dishes are perfect examples.
Look at the one in the back, with its full pound of pimento-stuffed olives. Is it wrong that I find that so much more appealing than today’s salads? It’s what Charlie Brown would’ve served at Thanksgiving had he just a few more ingredients.
The especially neat thing? Up until this part of the review, buying back pieces of my childhood was going to involve spending too much money on eBay. Instead, I’ll just drop a whole jar of olives over a quadrisected head of lettuce. Four bucks, and I’ll be four years old.
Thanks for reading!