Ahhh, can you feel it? That crisp morning chill! Those extra thick retail catalogs! This divisive election that threatens to split the world in half like a coconut! Yes indeed, CHRISTMAS is in the air!
Okay, maybe it’s a little early, but I’ll tell you this: As a kid, it was always at this point in November that I started to work on my Christmas wish lists.
That was the era of the Sears Wish Book and similarly giant catalogs. Hundreds of pages filled with toys and video games and unsightly sweatpants, all ripe for the wanting. Some of my fondest holiday memories involve me sprawled out on the living room floor, mapping out my wish list on a legal pad.
I had nice Christmases, but in practice, my wish lists were largely ignored. If I had to assign the problem a crux, it was the fact that I always gave Mom my list no later than November 10th. She was more the type to shop on December 20th, and definitely not the type to hold onto a list of toys for over a month.
Still, I doubt that receiving my exact wants would’ve been nearly as fun as simply picking them out. Paging through those catalogs and dreaming about plastic garbage was the kid version of imagining the aftermath of a lottery win. You don’t really believe it’s gonna happen, but the sweet dreams are worth whatever investment.
Below: Seven toys plucked from the 1991 JCPenney Christmas catalog, which for all intents was the fraternal twin of the Sears Wish Book. (Same shit, different composition.)
TMNT Technodrome Playset!
Every time I look at the Technodrome, I bleed. Despite being a major TMNT nut at the time, I never got my hands on this playset. How could I let such an obviously great time slip through my fingers?
Judging by the “open” view in that photo, I see that it isn’t nearly as spacious or intricate as the me-of-the-’90s imagined. On the other hand, I knew the trick with these action figure playsets. If you filled them with figures from different, smaller lines, they all turned into plastic paradises. I don’t know exactly how many TMNT figures fit inside the Technodrome, but I bet that bitch coulda held at least fifty G.I. Joes.
(I was a playset junkie, by the way. Without playsets, I wouldn’t have had any idea what to do with my action figures. I wasn’t so imaginative with “wars on the battlefield” or other such dramas, but I sure knew how to make four inch monsters fight over “who got the house.”)
Nintendo Comic Books Set!
Yes, there actually were Nintendo comic books. If I’m remembering the story right, they were some of the very first comics published by Valiant.
The Nintendo Comics System series starred the likes of Mario, Link and Captain N, with stories were tonally similar to what we saw in their respective cartoons.
I’d have to call them “comic books” in quotes, as they were really more like storybooks, with thicker covers and higher prices. Around here, only one shop ever had the comics in stock, but they were impressive enough to warrant special trips.
You’d never find them in fifty cent longboxes today, but they’re affordable enough for serious collectors. (And that’s a far cry from years ago, when many of these comics had been assigned hideously overblown values, I guess due to their status as Valiant antiques?)
WWF Table & Chairs!
I was too old for this set even by 1991, which is ironic considering how fast I’d buy a plastic Ultimate Warrior chair if I found one at a yard sale today. Why couldn’t someone teach me about kitsch back when it mattered?
The chairs look wildly uncomfortable, forcing the sort of posture that only works when you’re drawing stickmen at dining room tables. On the other hand, a more agreeable chair would never have a top rail shaped like Hulk Hogan’s head.
M.C. Hammer Doll!
Aw, this is precious. Back during M.C. Hammer’s heyday, he scored a doll from Mattel. I always assumed it to be mostly meant for boys, but at least in this one catalog, M.C. Hammer was doomed to the “Barbie pages,” where most boys would never dare flip to.
It wasn’t just happenstance, either, because they photographed Hammer right alongside Barbie dolls. If you didn’t know better, you’d assume that Barbie’s pink Chevy was actually his!
I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that a Barbie-scale doll based on a teen heartthrob was at least meant as much for girls as for boys. Now all I can think about is the crossover potential. Just you try to compete with that, Ken.
Nintendo Game Packs!
($39.99 and up)
This is just a small sampling of the catalog’s Nintendo games, which spanned for several pages. I cannot overstate the importance of these spreads, which come from a time when even getting a list of available Nintendo games wasn’t easy.
Though most of these games had dedicated TV commercials, it’s not like you could’ve just pulled them up on YouTube. These individual screenshots were often our only things to go on, and kids really did sometimes pick new games based on them and them alone.
Given that the Super Nintendo was already out by the winter of ‘91 (and featured in this catalog), this page sort of commemorates the original NES’s last stand.
Swamp Trap Playset!
Is it just me, or was this clearly inspired by Kenner’s much older Star Wars Dagobah playset? The inspiration seems so obvious that I’m surprised Kenner didn’t just reuse the original mold and spray-paint everything green.
(That hardly would’ve been out of bounds for Kenner, by the way. Another of their top items in 1991 was the Robin Hood Sherwood Forest playset, which didn’t just look like the old Ewok Village, but actually WAS the old Ewok Village.)
IMO, the Swamp Thing toy line doesn’t get nearly enough love from today’s collectors, and I’m counting myself as part of that problem. Why haven’t I picked up a Swamp Trap playset? It has Audrey II, mossy quicksand and a bunch of fish tank flora! All of the things that I’m super into!
TMNT Play Tent!
It still kills me that I never had one of these, or at least one of the “bed tent” versions. A pop-up clubhouse would’ve ruled my world, as evidenced by how often I tried to create facsimiles out of couch cushions and ratty blankets. It was never the same.
I was far from alone in that passion. When you were a kid, privacy came at a premium. Your own bedroom was hardly off-limits, but people with prying eyes were far less likely to squeeze themselves into nylon tents that barely fit you inside. I see that Ninja Turtles tent, and imagine a world filled with pilfered cookies and Dad’s old Playboys.
Liked this article? More ancient catalog reviews are on the way! In the meantime, here are some prior editions from Dino Drac’s past holiday celebrations!