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Boomer kids, did you ever collect little treasures and store them away? Maybe in a cigar box or an old metal lunch box?
In the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, do you remember Scout’s box of treasures? If you have seen the movie, you know where those trinkets came from.
Lots of kids in the 50’s and 60’s had a collection of little toys, trinkets, rocks, shells, etc., each with its own story. I had my own collection, but I don’t think I kept any in a box; I kept them in a dresser drawer. I did have a small collection of baseball cards that I kept in a metal Bandaid can . . . . in my dresser. I still have the cards, hard won from pinching pennies and flipping with the neighborhood boys, but I don’t know what happened to the Bandaid can. I seem to recall catching grasshoppers and depositing them in a Bandaid can, so maybe that’s how the can met its demise.
There are a number of 1950’s/1960’s “Remember When” websites. There are some that ask “Do you remember these?” and then list the most popular toys of those decades—toys such as the erector set, Chatty Cathy doll, hula hoop, and Mr. Potato Head.
The little trinkets in my dresser drawer were not the most popular toys of the era, yet I suspect that you may recognize a few. Some, though, are quite unique, and that’s why I cherished them and kept them all these years. Let’s see if any of these take you back, back, back to the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer in the 50’s and 60’s when you were a kid with plenty of time on your hands to open up your little box and play with your private treasure trove—not your brother’s and not your sister’s, but yours alone.
In no particular order:
#1 King Tut in sarcophagus
This mysterious toy was my favorite—more so because my dad gave it to me. It is a magnetic King Tutankhamun in his sarcophagus, measuring 3/4 inch x 3 inches. With easy effort, you can take the mummy out of the coffin. The magical feature is that if you tap the coffin or thrown it down hard, the north/south magnetic poles inside will switch so that as hard as you try, you cannot put the mummy back inside. It will jump out every time. The only resolution is to tap the opposite end or throw it down hard again until the poles return back to their original positions.
King Tut in his sarcophagus was so special to me that I never let anyone borrow it; I didn’t even let them play with it unless I was there to supervise. Everyone was amazed at its “supernatural” powers.
During my first year of teaching, I brought it to school to show my 4th and 5th graders. Big mistake. At the end of the day, when I prepared to take it back home, I discovered that it was missing. A student had stolen it. I was devastated. At the time, I was teaching in the hills of West Virginia in a 3-room wood frame school house that had just installed flush toilets the year before I got there. There were only 56 students in grades 1 to 8. Fortunately, they had a wonderful principal whom they respected, and the thief had a conscience. The principal went in the next day and spoke to the class. I don’t know what he said though I’m sure he relayed to them how much that little trinket meant to me. By the end of the day, King Tut and coffin had appeared back on the top of my desk. I asked no questions. I taught for many years after that, but my King Tut never set foot in a school again.
#2 Heinz pickle pins
You may have come across a Heinz pickle pin as a child, but if you lived in or around Pittsburgh, PA, chances are great that you had one or more of your own. My family had multiple ones. That’s because nearly every school kid around took a field trip to tour the Heinz factory, the company’s world headquarters, and at the end of the tour, they were given pickle pins.
Actually, the pickle pins have been around since the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair when Heinz needed an inexpensive gift to draw people to their out-of-the way booth, with the added bonus of relatively free advertising pinned to people’s watch chains and shirts. Throughout the fair, Heinz handed out more than one million pickle pins.
On Pinterest, Jackie Luck-Cobbs states that her pickle pin was the most coveted item during her childhood. “I remember wearing this pin on my hospital gown when I was little and getting my tonsils removed.”
#3 Eight O’Clock Coffee Bank
This is my replica Eight O’clock Coffee tin bank, an A & P promotional item from the 1950’s. The brand was very popular in the 1950’s though it was first created in 1859 by The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, otherwise known as A & P. It was actually the most popular coffee in America during the 1930’s. The last A & P store closed in late 2015, but Eight O’clock Coffee is still sold in other grocery stores across the country.
As you can see from its beat-up condition, I handled that bank regularly throughout my childhood, but the coins accumulated more slowly than water from a dripping faucet. I remember saving for a long time for a new bathing suit, with the bank mostly long on coins and short on greenbacks. But I did accomplish my goal eventually and was proud of it.
#4 Coke baseball caps
I got these Coke baseball bottle caps from a 1967 Coke promotion when I was in 9th or 10th grade. One promotion offered All Star bottle caps while the other offered bottle caps specific to local markets. So, in Pittsburgh, we were able to collect Pittsburgh Pirates bottle caps. I was and still am a huge Pirate fan, so naturally I’ve kept them all these years. Some people have large and complete collections.
To see 1967 posters on the promotion, view here at fleersticker.
#5 cowrie shell bracelet
This was another item very special to me because my dad gave it to me. These cowrie shell bracelets were made by New Guinea natives during World War II. My dad bought it in 1944 or 1945. I rarely wear it because I have always been afraid that it would fall off my wrist, and it can never be replaced. Well, maybe replaced but not with my dad’s fingerprints on it.
#6 Little Chinaman
I don’t know where this little one-inch tall wooden guy came from, but Little Chinaman was a constant source of imaginative play between me and my sister Sandy. He was the main character in many of our made-up stories. I could never throw Little Chinaman away. In order not to lose the wee guy, I keep him in my treasure chest jewelry box.
#7 Tiny doll
This 3-inch doll was definitely my smallest girl doll. After I became too old to play with her, I added a safety pin to her back and wore her on my blouses.
#8 Miniature troll doll
Was there a young girl in the 1960’s who didn’t own a troll doll? The miniatures were cheap, so just about everybody could afford one. Troll dolls were created in 1959 and became one of the biggest toy fads in the U.S. from 1963 to 1965. This one is probably an imitation because it doesn’t have the trademark glass eyes. Girls loved their troll dolls because their size was ideal for smuggling into school!
#9 Virgin Mary ring
I attended a Catholic grade school, where we often received small inexpensive religious items on special occasions. This ring was one of them.
#10 Photo and autograph books
These were another gift that my dad gave me when I was ten years old. I know this because of my notation on the first page: “I won’t forget this day. I got my book on Dec. 21, 1961.”
At the time, they were an unusually amazing gift because the cover displayed lenticular technology similar to a hologram. The pictures changed when you moved the books back and forth. Tilt the photo book, and the stationery dancers begin to dance the hula. Tilt the autograph book, and the girl changes positions.
It’s so enlightening to look back at what I put in the blanks for my favorite singer, TV star, sport, subject, and the like. My favorite book was Jane Eyre, which I had the good fortune to teach to my 9th graders decades later!
The signatures, notes, and poems written by family and friends inside the book are priceless to me. Here is a classic one set forth by my brother Bill, who was 12 at the time:
Well, did you own any of these seemingly inconsequential childhood toys? Are memories of your own keepsakes, small but meaningful, sparked from time to time by a picture, a sound, or a person—perhaps a grandchild? Maybe they elicit emotions long tucked away in your grown-up self? Maybe you kept some of those little treasures. After all, they were “keep” sakes for many childhood years. From time to time, you pull out that King Tut tomb and smack it for old time’s sake to switch the poles and watch Tut jump out. Or you put on that Heinz pickle pin or that Virgin Mary ring for a day. Or you sit down to read your autograph book, transporting yourself back to the 1960’s. For me, that means having my best friend Patty sitting right beside me on the front porch stoop as she writes a poem about Ringo Starr.
If your child or grandchild has started a little collection, you just may have a hard time finding a spare cigar box, the cigar’s heyday having long passed. But if you’re looking for a rainy day project for them, get a small box, pull out the paints, ribbon, wrapping paper, stickers, and such and get them started on a treasure box of their own!
KAREN GENNARI is the author of The Crab Hollow Chronicles, a fictitious memoir based on her experiences growing up in a neighborhood full of boys in 1961/62. It also explores the merits and challenges of life in a Catholic family of seven.
Join nine-year-old Karen Schmidt in her attempts to navigate Crab Hollow Road amidst the overwhelming male majority who beleaguer her at every opportunity. Does Karen have the fortitude to weather toadnappings, midnight escapades, false impersonation, and more? Along the way, relive the people, products, music, sports, and headlines of the early 1960’s. Virtually every page references the 1960’s. Lots of your favorite toys are mentioned in these pages.