Back in the olden days, and by “olden days,” I mean the 1970s and 1980s, comic books were rife with offers for enterprising youths who could order away for catalogs that held various items (seeds, greeting cards, and so on). You could then go and hit up your family or neighbors for sales, and you could get a cut of the sales price in cash or you could get stuff.
My brother and I, we went with Olympic, which was greeting cards:
Not depicted: Captain Olympic, the superhero they would later feature in their ads.
We started with the program a year or so after this particular ad from 1980. We were still living in the projects in Milwaukee, and the prizes were a wonderland of things we couldn’t get except at Christmas or our birthday, maybe. With a little hard work and the sufferance of our neighbors and relatives, we could earn them.
Every so often, they’d send us a new catalog, and we’d hit up people for a box or two of greeting cards. We never sold bunches of them, so we never got to the premium level of prizes like electronics, but we’d have ten or twenty boxes sold, and we’d pore over that catalog, weighing our options for hours and choosing carefully. Over the course of time, we got:
- A Kodak Winner 110 camera (which you can see in the advertisement above). That little camera documented a lot of my life from the early and middle 1980s (although on Facebook I have a large number of images posted, the only mention I have of it on this here blog is the time I won a photography award in middle school using a snapshot from it.
- The microscope set from the picture above. At the time, I was a well-rounded little smarty pants, and it wasn’t clear whether my smarty pantsness would lead me to science or to the arts. We used it for years, my brother and I, looking at the little slides they sent with it and looking at leaves and stuff. Remembering those days, I got a microscope for my boys for Christmas the year before last, and I don’t think they used it as intended before destroying it. But it does make an effective artillery piece for action figure battles, or so I’ve been told.
- A small notepad/organizer thing that I took to my grandparents’ house alone one night, when my grandfather and I talked geneology. I don’t know if it was for a school project, but it was a rare thing for me to spend some one-on-one time with him, and I felt like such an adult at about ten. I took copious notes in that little notebook, and I lost it not soon thereafter. I seem to have a tendency to lose meaningful notebooks. That’s another story, perhaps a Personal Relics entry to come.
- Our first copy of the basic Dungeons and Dragons set. We got this when we lived in the trailer park, and we spent many afternoons and weekends playing, my brother, the two Jims, and I. I’ve played with many gaming groups in the years between then and early marriage, but it all got started with that set.
- A Polaroid instant camera that I got about the same time (“A Picture Holds 1000 Memories” talks about a picture I took with it). I don’t know why I thought I needed a second camera. Perhaps impatience with developing the film. The film was more expensive, though, so it got used on more consequential things, like pictures of our Pekingese doing smart things.
Some pack rat I am; of the items we got from Olympic, I’ve only got the D&D set left. But lots of pictures from the cameras, so they were definitely worth it.
Of course, kids don’t have these sorts of opportunities now. I know in my own life, when I hit middle school or high school, suddenly all my selling went from Olympic greeting cards to school fund raisers of various stripes. Did schools just start with the using children as fundraising tools at that time, or did I just age into it and/or move to a place where it was more common? I don’t know; however, I do know that kids today never hit me up for their own good, but instead from a very early age try to sell me things for their various programs and school functions. I suppose there’s a free enterprise versus ward/tool of the State essay in it were I so inclined. But not today.
UPDATE The top of this ad from 1984 shows Captain Olympic:
You see? I was not making it up!