Ah, the holiday season — my favorite excuse to blow money on old department store catalogs just so I can scan a few pics of action figures. It’s just what The Waitresses sang about.
Let’s look at some highlights from the 1988 JCPenney Christmas catalog. I’ve reviewed other editions before, but if this is your first time, those catalogs were only slightly less amazing than Sears Wish Books. So many toys, so many video games, so many gaudy bathrobes!
I would’ve been nine years old at the time, ruled by plastic monsters and Nintendo cartridges. Naturally, Santa brought me several of the exact things featured in this catalog. I even have proof!
See if these scans jog your memory:
G.I. Joe Action Figure Sets!
Love seeing these “mixed assortments” of action figures in old catalogs. Since it was impractical to sell the figures individually via mail-order, the stores grouped batches of ‘em together, and kept the prices jusssst low enough to let those batches pass as bargains.
But there was a catch! Usually, these action figures arrived in simpler packages than their in-store counterparts. On the lower end, the figures were sealed in plastic baggies and then stuffed into plain cardboard boxes. They were the same toys, of course, but getting six figures in a plain box wasn’t quite as exciting as getting six figures on their beautiful cards.
I’m digging that “Bad Guys Set” on the bottom. What a lineup! Toxo-Viper looked like the “Homer’s Car” version of a Cobra troop, while that red-faced Iron Grenadiers dude was one of my favorite figures from any toy line. (I thought of him as the Negaverse Cobra Commander.)
Nintendo Game Pak Case!
I included the shot of various Nintendo games because I knew you’d love to see it, but I mainly wanna focus on that Game Pak Case. Man, I love offbeat Nintendo accessories.
This was a simple storage case for loose cartridges. It wasn’t as elegant as the wooden ones that resembled VHS and CD cases, but if you were sleeping over a friend’s house and needed to bring your game library, it came in handy.
Me? I probably would’ve tossed the cartridge trays and used this as a straight-up briefcase. I picture it stuffed with doodles, Johnson Smith catalogs and a few snack-sized bags of Doritos. Pure bliss!
PS: Old Nintendo nonsense usually costs a fortune nowadays, but the Game Pak Case routinely sells for under $30. It’s a good “starter piece” if you want some wacky old Mario thing but still need to buy groceries.
Dino-Riders Tyrannosaurus Rex!
You may have noticed a lack of Dino-Riders content on this site. It’s not that I didn’t love the toys, because of course I did. I just find this line so complexly beautiful that the thought of trying to capture its essence in a couple of overcaffeinated paragraphs makes my brain cry.
Seriously, where do I start? They’re articulated, museum-quality dinosaur replicas, fitted with the same shit Captain Freedom wore in The Running Man. By the time I get to the part about them being ridden by goddamned space aliens, Christmas will be over.
It was as if Tyco had fifteen ideas for a new toy line and couldn’t decide which to pick.
Shown above is the collection’s crown jewel: A motorized tyrannosaur that could walk and chomp under its own power! (Well, technically under the power of one “D” battery, but when it comes to aliens riding cyborg dinosaurs, you gotta suspend disbelief.)
Dino-Riders toys are crazy expensive these days, and that’s especially true with the Tyrannosaurus Rex. A sealed-in-box version recently sold for almost fourteen hundred dollars, with loose/complete specimens fetching as much as $450. If you want one of these babies, ask Santa for a promotion.
Habitrail Deluxe Set!
I spent many years in the company of many hamsters, so I am intimately acquainted with Habitrail cages. (You know the ones. They look like tiny water parks.)
I’ve since read that Habitrails are strongly discouraged by many hamster fans. Looking back, I get why. Virtually all of my hamsters managed to chew through those plastic tubes. By the time my Habitrails were on their last legs, I had to fortify them with everything from stacked books to duct tape. It was like District 9, but with hamsters.
The one shown here is actually on the quainter side. I’ve seen Habitrails that were like levels from Super Mario Maker. Damned things may as well toss the Capsela logo on the boxes. Poor little rodents had to hop through 45 obstacles just to take a shit.
PS: “Hamsters not included” is my new favorite fine print.
Slumber Tent & Slumber Bags!
($24.99 & $23.99)
If you’ll pardon the pun, stuff like this was the sleeper hit of Christmas. Toys and video games are great, but just imagine how much your world would’ve revolved around an indoor tent shaped like Garfield. Instant clubhouse!
Those sleeping bags are killer, too. Even in a general way, I’m a big proponent of blankets-as-Christmas-presents. Christmas morning feels so much more like Christmas morning when you’re wearing a new blanket as a cape. If the blanket has Scrooge McDuck on it, that’s even better.
Interesting note: That TMNT sleeping bag was the ONLY Ninja Turtles item in this entire catalog. The action figure line didn’t really take off until 1989, but it’s still weird to see one random sleeping bag as the Turtles’ sole contribution to this book.
Illuminated Christmas Decorations!
($22.00 – $38.00)
I’ve seen both of those Santas on countless lawns, but I’m especially fond of Jack Frost over there. He was like the budget version of Mrs. Deagle’s imported Bavarian snowman. I’m gonna find one on eBay, slice the head off and tell everyone that I want their dogs. Go ahead and doubt me, because this is happening.
Thanks for reading about junk from the 1988 JCPenney Christmas catalog. More old catalog reviews are on the way!