Popular Toy Gifts of Past Recessions, Thanks to Sears Catalog Archive

Sear catalog from 1905For anyone old enough to have ever had a Sears catalog at home, the memory of being a child and circling the toys they wanted for Christmas is a strong one. Sears printed the catalogs from 1896 until 1993, and while the catalogs that millions of children tore into is now long gone, they're available on the Internet in a new Sears catalog archive.

Ancestry.com announced Nov. 30, that it is making the complete collection of catalogs and more than 250,000 pages available online.

Viewing the pages is like traveling back in time, but without having to worry about philosophical issues such as meeting your mom when she was 6. They offer a glimpse of how Sears targeted -- and how customers spent what little money they had -- selling gifts during the many recessions of the past 100 years.Here are some of the gifts that Sears sold during the American recessions, along with linked photos of the catalog pages describing the items, and their price:

1903: Magic Lantern -- "The young people not only derive great pleasure from giving magic lantern exhibitions, but the business training they gain...gives them the rudiments of money making..." ($1.90)

1919: Tinker Toy -- "Tinker Toy is the wonder builder. An educational, interesting and amusing toy for any child." (57 cents)

1927: Erector Sets -- "The greatest construction toy in the world." (89 cents-$12.98)

1937: Monopoly -- "The shrewdest investor wins!" ($1.69)

1945: Model Plane -- "For men and boys with hobbies!" (23 cents-$2.69)

1958: Coca-Cola Dispenser -- "Looks just like regular dispenser in drug store...set up your own soda fountain and you're in business." ($2.79)

1974: Sidewalk Shoe Skates -- "Oversized composition wheels provide greater stability for young skaters." ($9.98)

1980: Video Arcade Cartridge System -- "Console attached directly to your TV...turns it into an arcade of action-packed fun or educational games." ($148.95)

1991: Exciting Gameboy by Nintendo -- "With a dot-matrix screen plus standard controls you'll recognize." ($89.95)

For later recessions, Sears didn't have catalogs, so it's difficult to determine how much it sold some gifts for. But here are some popular gifts during the latest recessions, according to Ancestry.com:

2001: Bratz dolls -- The dolls weren't a big hit when they were first introduced in 2001, but later caught on and can now be found for as low as $8. A 2001 doll can now be found for $5.

  • Apple iPad: For an Apple iPad with 32gb WiFi and 3G, the cost was $729
  • Xbox 360 Kinect Console: Enables voice activation for your Xbox 360 system. $299.99
  • Playstation Move: Get the paradigm-shifting functionality of the Wii with the most advanced gaming console on the market. $399.99
  • Droid 2: As far as power, it can't be topped. This phone will pretty much do anything. $535
  • FurReal Friends: Every girl dreams of having her very own pony with realistic animation movement and sounds. This incredibly lifelike pony is a very special once-in-a-lifetime friend. $299.99
They're all fun and show how toy prices have changed over time. For my money ($23 at the time), I just want to get back to 1980 and buy the electronic football game that I played with so much.

What gifts from the Sears catalog do you miss? Tell us in the comments section below.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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