In November of 2000, I placed my first-ever order with Amazon. Reviewing my account, it looks like I bought Charmander earrings, two Furby Babies, and twenty of the exact same Darth Sidious figure, just because it was marked down to a buck.
Probably shouldn’t have admitted all of that, but here’s the point: I’d guess that the vast majority of you have been ordering from Amazon for nearly as long. Maybe even longer. Many of us have ordered so frequently that our purchase histories read like diaries. It’s been our collective corner deli for everything that isn’t food.
I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at Amazon as it existed back when a lot of us were first hearing about it, so I dug up an old version of site.
This was Amazon, on August 27th, 1999:
Maybe Amazon’s comfort factor stems from how little it’s changed through the years. Today’s version of the site is slicker, more responsive and less heavy on the ten paragraph advertorials, but it’s still basically the same.
The screenshot isn’t a mockup. That’s what people saw on the Amazon homepage on 8/27/99. As I clicked through the site, so many memories came flooding back. I had to remind myself that 1999 really was fifteen years ago, and that it wasn’t crazy to see so many new movies in VHS format. (God, we’re all so old.)
I spent most of my time in the “Toys & Games” category. Holy nostalgia. The neat thing about sifting through Ancient Amazon rather than an old store catalog is that you’ll see much obscurer things. A catalog will remind you about “big launch” releases, but even back then, Amazon carried everything. It was as much “shit parade” as “hit parade,” and I loved every second of it.
To commemorate the hours I spent navigating dead links (and forced redirects to more dead links), here are thirteen random playthings Amazon sold back in 1999.
#1: Pokemon Camera!
Pokemania was running wild in 1999, and excluding Star Wars, no other brand came close to Pokemon’s sheer amount of toys, dolls and gadgets. This camera, from a time when most people still used film, is Pikachu-based with some Pokeball touches. I don’t believe it had any special features beyond its plastic shell, but for kids in the late ‘90s, a camera that looked like Pikachu was plenty enough.
#2: Stretchy CatDog!
CatDog, star of the Nickelodeon series of the same name, must have been a bigger deal than I ever knew. Amazon had a lot of CatDog merch, but nothing matched the charm of this simple stretchy figure. The midsection could be pulled to obscene lengths, perhaps to mark the instances where Cat and Dog were fed up each with each other.
#3: Optimal Optimus!
Beast Wars was the best thing that even happened to Transformers, so I had to include at least one of its many 1999 offerings. Optimal Optimus was one of the biggest toys in the set (perhaps THE biggest), even if much of its bulk came from the hilariously ginormous arms.
This figure has special meaning for me. I gave it to my nephew for his birthday that year, and he immediately remarked that it was the best gift he got. Back before I became lazy and started giving everyone gift cards, I took great pride in being King Gift-Giver. Optimal Optimus helped me hold the position.
#4: Sega Dreamcast!
I think I’ve told this story before, but I bought a Sega Dreamcast like three seconds after getting my first credit card. I barely even wanted the thing. I just couldn’t wait to charge some ridiculously high-priced item to my new piece of plastic. Days later, my pet rabbit chewed through one of the wires, which somehow tanked the entire system. I never bothered to get it fixed, more or less because I’m stupid.
I try to remember the Sega Dreamcast anytime I’m about to buy something I don’t need and can’t afford. Thought bubbles pop over my head, filled with images of clumsy rabbits and stern-looking debt collectors.
#5: Headless Horseman Figure!
I’m a big fan of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, but I totally forgot that McFarlane put out toys based on the movie. Now I have a new thing to hunt! This Headless Horseman figure was the obvious star of the set, with Christopher Walken’s gnarly face and accessories in the form of severed heads.
PS, if you ever need to do an impression of Christopher Walken from Sleepy Hollow, just say “nah” while showing as many teeth as possible.
#6: Spice Girls Doll!
Amazon had a doll for every Spice Girl. I’m featuring Mel B because she was the only one posed to look like she’d just woken up from a 300-year slumber. By 1999, I guess some of the Spice Girls’ shine had faded: Virtually everything connected to them was on clearance.
#7: Taco Bell Chihuahua!
Ah, who could forget the Taco Bell chihuahua? The popularity of his TV commercials inspired waaaay too many products, from clothes to stickers to toys. I was still in high school when that was a thing, and yeah, plenty of kids wore “Yo Quiero” shirts. Even with a fashion sense best described as “literal sad clown,” I goddamned knew better.
#8: Furby with Giraffe Spots!
Furbies were arguably the hottest toys of 1998. I’m not sure if they were nearly as popular by 1999, but since Amazon had tons of them, they must’ve been doing okay.
These “newer generation” Furbies improved on the originals with wilder color patterns, many of which were based on real life animals. This was my favorite of them, if only because “Furby with Giraffe Spots” is the greatest product title imaginable.
#9: Pokemon Mini Town Playset!
I’ve long been a sucker for these miniature Pokemon playsets, which worked on a similar premise to Polly Pocket and Mighty Max toys. The little playsets lived in sealable “cases,” and each came with tiny Pokemon figures.
There were oodles of these, representing different areas from the games and cartoon. Since Pokemon was constantly revamped with new games and shows, Hasbro was able to keep this line going for several years. (In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they’re still making these playsets, 15 years later!)
#10: Icky Yicky Skull Ball!
YES! I know it’s not a big brand toy, but the thrill of searching through old Amazon pages is finding weird crap like this. It’s a spooky ball filled with rubber skeleton heads and fake blood. Squeeze it in your hand, and it’d make all sorts of awful noises. Novelties like the “Icky Yicky Skull Ball” were made long before and long after 1999, but something about this particular one just speaks to me. And what it’s saying sounds like a dog taking a shit.
#11: Dr. Evil Figure!
A Dr. Evil figure, complete with Mr. Bigglesworth! I may be misremembering things, but I feel like 1999 was right around the time when toys like this — which were meant more for adult collectors — were starting to become a hot market. I also imagine that this Dr. Evil figure was on sale, because even in 1999, those sorts of figures were always at least twice the price of “regular” ones.
#12: WCW Sting Figure!
Ha, this is like the fifth time “Crow Sting” has turned up on Dino Drac. I wasn’t a particularly huge fan, but in this precise outfit, Sting represents that era of pro-wrestling as well as anyone. If I have things right, the figure came with a collapsible dumpster, which Sting could flatten with his black iron fists. I can’t say that I remember an exact instance of a wrestler flattening a dumpster, but I suppose it could’ve happened after I switched to Raw.
#13: Peace the Beanie Baby!
Beanie Babies were on life support by the end of ‘99. (In fact, Ty Warner had made definitive plans to end the line, until devoted fans changed their mind.) I was never a collector, but everyone who was alive during Beanie Babies’ peak popularity knew about them. Those dolls were EVERYWHERE. Hell, even stores that had no business selling Beanie Babies often did, because they were such guaranteed sellers and could bring in so many new customers.
The crash of Beanie Babies was a good lesson in not buying the hype as it relates to “collectible value,” but while some fans certainly went overboard, the truth is that they had plenty of fun doing it. All of that hunting, spending and protecting meant very little in the end, but in the moment, I’m sure it was a blast.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this stroll down memory lane, courtesy of an ancient version of Amazon. I’d come up with a tighter closer, but it’d take time away from my new life’s mission of finding a Headless Horseman figure. C ya.