Every generation has its own popular toy. The gizmo or gadget that every kid wanted, many kids had, and was often cast aside after a few weeks of enjoyment.
Sure, there are the evergreen toys: the Legos, the Barbies, the Hot Wheels—all exceedingly popular shortly after their release, and they managed to remain steadily popular in the decades that followed.
No, what I’m talking about are the passing fads. Maybe the toy was only made to last a short while. Perhaps it was banned from schools for being distracting or dangerous, thus explaining the declining interest. Maybe, like the time in fourth grade when I won the jump rope competition for a schoolwide contest, and the next day I missed the winning catch in a game of kickball, never to be successful in sports again, the toys just weren't meant for long-term popularity.
But many of those "fad" toys have seen resurgences in the decades that follow their introductions. New, updated, "improved" models have been introduced in the hopes of cashing in on some of those sweet, sweet nostalgia sales. In some cases, original models are highly sought out on the resale market. And many of those early (and later) models and printings can be found at estate sales, and purchased by adults who remember those passing fads with more than just passing fancy.
As fidget spinners rotate through the fingers of schoolkids nationwide, let’s take a look back at what was popular in the years past.
While current versions of moon shoes use plastic and elastic to get the bouncing effect, old school moon shoes / satellite shoes used good old fashioned metal springs. The shoes have had a long life on toy shelves, though their popularity waxes and wanes as the memory of the dangerous side of what, in theory, is a magical toy, disappears from the collective subconscious. All generations of moon shoes have been known to cause sprained ankles and scraped knees. The fact that the older models could be used to contract tetanus or trap a bear makes them particularly scary.
Okay, no one hurt themselves on Silly Putty, and in a way it's an evergreen toy because it's never left the market, but the initial excitement surrounding the egg-shaped container with goo inside that was no less than a scientific marvel cannot be ignored.
The viscous material stretched and bounced. It held its shape but also could melt like liquid. It was magical in a way that makes the new fad of homemade goo sweeping the nation—the one that has left my dining room floor covered in borax and contact lens solution—seem like a step in the wrong direction. Call me when a corn starch and school glue concotion can pick up the ink from a Family Circus cartoon and let me stretch the characters' faces in a humorous manner. Then we'll talk.
Oh man, someone is going to get hurt.
These loud, swinging spheres were the talk of the playground and the nurses office. With acrylic balls flying every which way, it was only a matter of time before kids started getting bruises, black eyes, and chipped teeth.
A safer (read: lamer), but no less annoying version of clackers came out in the 90s. But people who survived the originals still pine for them. Admit it: you’d clack ‘em if you had ‘em.
Clearly the 1960s were a time for flinging things around by strings and potentially injuring all your friends.
Yo-yos weren’t the noisy, violent toys that clackers seemed to be, but there’s always the temptation to wang someone in the head on purpose...or on accident.
Yo-yos actually go back several hundred years, but it was the post-war 60s when their star truly rose thanks to an aggressive ad campaign by Duncan, who had been making the toys since 1929, and owned the trademark to the word “yo-yo.” They sold more than 45 million yo-yos before losing the trademark in 1965, and thus their complete stronghold on the market.
Speak & Spell
Improving the vocabulary of children everywhere, the Speak & Spell embodied the magic of robotics and the fun of spelling bees.
The mechanically monotone voice had less-than-perfect diction, and the gadget likely became a bane to any parent who hadn’t learned the old duct-tape-over-the-speaker trick to lower the volume of children’s toys. But it was hard to stay mad at the little bugger. After all, it was educational!
The early versions of the game have raised buttons, as seen above. Later models had flat buttons, which would crack with over-use (see: the “repeat” button), though when it comes to reselling, the version doesn’t seem to dictate the price.
The elastic strongman got his start in the latter half of the 1970s, enthralling children with his stretchability. The toy wasn’t short-lived because he was a passing fad. Stretch was short-lived as he was often pulled beyond its breaking point, his body torn open to reveal the yellowy goo inside.
Stretch Armstrong went off the market in the 1980s, and returned in the 90s. The 1970s editions, in good condition, have been known to resell for hundreds, or even thousands of dollars on the resale market, depending on quality.
Slap bracelets are still around, but there’s nothing like first wave slap bracelet mania—the glamour, the danger!
They were banned from my grade school because there were rumors of kids unintentionally slashing their wrists when the bracelet’s metal core broke through its flimsy fabric or plastic exterior.
Beauty is pain, they say.
Many of today’s bracelets are surrounded by thick rubber, and much less likely to harm anyone.
Garbage Pail Kids
Unlike their longer-lasting and wider-reaching namesakes, Cabbage Patch Kids, Garbage Pail Kids was a series of collectible trading cards, featuring gory or grody depictions of the chubby-cheeked dolls being horribly maimed or sullied by bathroom humor.
And all I wanted was the one with my name.
Some of the original series’ cards are still particularly valuable to collectors. Over the decades, new editions of the cards were released, as well as reprints of the classics.
Finally, a way to attempt to show your parents you were responsible enough for a real pet that didn’t result in a dead beta and disappointment.
Nineties kids collected these keychain pets and cared for them with all their might. Much to the chagrin of school administrators, who found kids were more concerned about feeding their critters than in memorizing the Pythagorean theorem. They knew if they didn't, their little electronic buddy would be dead by sixth period. Many schools banned the toy in response.
My knockoff Tomagachi lasted 3 days. RIP, Lil’ Spooky.
Resale values vary; most aren’t worth more than their original price, but certain Tomagachi can pull in more than $100 in the right market.
Listen. I never “got” Pogs. But those kids that did...oh man, did they like Pogs.
The game and it’s colorful pieces were inspired by the Japanese game, Menko. The game migrated to the U.S. via Hawaii, where it was played with brightly-colored milk bottle caps from the Haleakala Dairy in Maui—specifically its Pomegranate, Orange, and Guava Drink.
Pomegranate, Orange, Guava.
The game took off in popularity, and schoolchildren across the country were collecting the Pogs and the larger chips called ”Slammers.” The game became a distraction in many schools—keeping kids from physical exercise during recess, bleeding into classroom time, looking dangerously like gambling—and eventually the game died out. But if my calculations are correct, we’re due for a new wave of Pog popularity any day now.
When Pokemon cards lept onto the scene in 1996, inspired by a successful pair of Game Boy video games, people of all ages set out to “catch ‘em all.” The card game became the talk of playgrounds and a main event in gaming stores, and the franchise ultimately launched a veritable cornucopia of TV shows, movies, video games, etc.
The franchise is still going strong, and the cards, particularly the early ones, can be worth a considerable amount of money in good condition. The cards make frequent appearances at estate sales, so be sure to take a gander.
See also: Yu-Gi-Oh cards
Oh, Beanie Babies. I’m as guilty as anyone of jumping in on that craze which straddled the end of the nineties and the beginning of the new millennium. My obsession was not to the point that I spent hundreds of dollars on a Diana bear, but I did have my mom make a special trip to Ben Franklin’s so I could buy the Walrus, who was named “Paul.”
I mean, come on. How cute is that?
In the decades since amassing my collection, the adorable lovies were moved to a basement, and then lost to a flood. Thankfully for me, by the time they washed away, they had little monetary value. Unfortunately for those people who spent considerable cash collecting those adorable plush critters, very few of them have increased in value.
But they remain as adorable as ever. So when you come across an abandoned collection at a tag sale, don’t let the memories of what might have been drive you to pass them by.
And keep a lookout for a replacement Paul for me, would you?