Tag Archives: vintage 1950s toys

Memory Lane: Venus Paradise Colored Pencil Set

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So there you were, expecting a real wowser of a snowstorm that would have kept the schools closed on Monday and led to a glorious day of sledding and snowball fights–but all it did was rain. What to do with your Sunday afternoon?

I loved these Venus Paradise pencil sets. Each set came with a raft of colored pencils and a bunch of pictures to color by number–always with a wonderful result, if you didn’t make careless mistakes. The pictures we got back then were complicated and it took a couple of hours to color one in. But it was worth it!

I don’t think these are available anymore, and I wonder if kids today would have the patience to enjoy them. After all, it’s not electronic. And no mayhem. Just really nice pictures of ducks flying over the cattails in a marsh, or a scenic covered bridge on a sunny day in the fall–stuff like that. All you needed was a pencil sharpener, and a bit of peace and quiet. There are still some similar toys around, but once you fell in love with Venus Paradise, nothing else would do.

I’ve still got some of the pencils, but the pictures are, alas, long gone.


‘Memory Lane: My Erector Set’

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There used to be a lot of toys like this–toys that got you to use your imagination: and your hands, too. Among the greatest of these was the erector set.

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With these toys, you start with just a bunch of parts that don’t look like anything, and with your hands and your brain, you turn them into something. What could be cooler than that?

All of the kids in my family got their start on my aunts’ erector set that they had when they were kids. I’m happy to say my brother still has ours.


Memory Lane: Electric Baseball

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My brother and I got this toy for Christmas once, sometime in the Fabulous Fifties: Tudor Electric Baseball.

The ball was a tiny white magnet which you “pitched” with a kind of catapult, aiming for a tin sheet representing the batter. Behind the sheet sat your opponent, who, when he heard the ball stick to the other side of the screen, smacked his side with a spring-operated plastic bat. If the ball landed on a circle marked “hit,” he flicked a switch and these little plastic guys with strips of celluloid on their bases ran around the basepaths, accompanied by a loud buzzing sound as the whole gameboard vibrated energetically. The basepaths were thick cardboard guides. Without them, the runners would have dashed all over the place in a kind of brownian movement.

If this sounds complicated, that’s only because it really was complicated.

Our friend “thewhiterabbit” had an Electric Football game. He soon gave up trying to make any sense of it.

Colorforms Baseball, which we also tried, had no electricity–only a dial on a spinner which, when spun, would stop either on an out or some kind of hit.

I have a feeling this toy cost my parents a fair amount of money. We dutifully played it until the day we somehow lost the ball. It was a very noisy game, and lots of times you’d smack the tin sheet and the ball would just fall off and you’d have to have a do-over. Or sometimes you’d smack it and the ball would just stick there.

But it’s the thought that counts!


Memory Lane: The Remco Bulldog Tank

This toy was a hot item in 1960, and my brother, then eight years old, got one for Christmas: Remco’s Bulldog Tank. Battery-powered, its mighty caterpillar treads would take the tank up and down steep hills of my mother’s books, all the while making a not entirely hopeful wheezing noise. Our family’s home movies show it doing that while my brother watches in angelic rapture.

Best of all, it shot! Boom! Well, not “boom,” really. It went “click.” It fired these plastic projectiles and ejected brass shell casings. Y’know something? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tank in a war movie eject a shell casing. But they must have, right? I mean, you can’t have the turret filling up with shell casings.

I wonder if they still make toys like this for kids–or do they try to make out like there’s no more war, we don’t need tanks to protect us from the bad guys anymore? Meanwhile, the same children deemed too emotionally fragile for a Bulldog Tank spend hours every day playing Zombie Massacre video games. Go figure.


Bonus Video: Fli-Back!

Wow! Remember these? Wooden paddle (usually with a picture of a cowboy on a bucking bronco), rubber ball, and rubber band–the classic Fli-Back toy. How many times could you hit the ball up and down before you lost control?

My Grandma bought me many a Fli-Back when I was a boy, but I never got the hang of it until much later in life. Maybe the lady in this video can say the same. I still have a Fli-Back in one of the kitchen drawers somewhere, although I think the cats batted the ball out to that place from which no little rubber ball returns.


Memory Lane: Now They Tell Me!

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In 1953 somebody invented a toy submarine that would dive and surface if you filled it with baking powder. In 1954 it became available as a “free inside” prize in Kellogg’s cereals.

Oh, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one of these! Only now I find out that you had to put baking powder in it–not baking soda! Baking soda won’t work. The sub will just sit there in the water, usually floating on its side. You know a submarine’s in trouble when it’s floating on its side.

Confound it! I know now what I did wrong. My father did it wrong, too. He filled the kitchen sink, put the dratted baking soda in the sub, and presto–nothing. We tried again and again, and the blamed thing never worked. Well, waddaya want for “free inside”? At least the cereal worked.

The confusion between baking powder and baking soda was so widespread, the WikiPedia article on this toy takes some pains to explain it. But there was no WikiPedia in 1955.

I’ve mistrusted submarine travel ever since. Thank goodness the Navy knows the difference between baking powder and baking soda!


‘Memory Lane: Golden Stamp Books’

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This, of course, was one of my favorites

How I loved these Golden Stamp Books! Especially on a rainy summer day: sitting on the grass rug on our back porch, coloring the pictures and pasting in the stamps.

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Of course, you have to have an attention span, to enjoy these. You had to be able to sit and do something quietly, maybe humming or whistling to yourself, content to sojourn in the world of the imagination. No cell phones, smartphones, iphones, etc.

It was bliss.


Memory Lane: Your Roy Rogers Lunchbox

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Did you have one of these? Wow, Roy and Dale and Trigger and Bullet–

Roy Rogers was a movie star, but when I was a boy he had a hit TV show, too: and most TV shows that made a hit with the kiddies wound up getting merchandised as lunchboxes. That was back before School Officials (aka education fat-heads) took it upon themselves to tell parents what they could or couldn’t put in their children’s lunchboxes. To paraphrase King Solomon, better a little snack-pack of Oreos served with love, than a Real Nutritious Tofu Vegan Feast doled out by a school bureaucracy.

So Roy and Dale were joined in the lunchbox parade by Zorro, Gene Autry, Wild Bill Hickcock, Rin-Tin-Tin, Davy Crockett, and a host of others. Not one of whom ever dropped the f-bomb on national TV, or bragged about being an atheist, or was a stooge for left-wing politics.

Gee, I can still hear Roy and Dale singing “Happy Trails” at the end of each episode of their TV show. Let me see if I can find that for you…


Memory Lane: ‘Melvin the Moon Man’

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Before the advent of video games featuring blood and guts flying all over the screen, children had to be content with benign, peaceful, harmless games–like this one.

Remco put out “Melvin the Moon Man” in 1959, and it was a hit. My parents got it for us for Christmas, and it was simple enough for all three of us to play: my sister, age 4, my brother, 7, and me, 10. If we had had a cat, he probably could’ve played, too.

You spin the handle of the unique Tumblebum dice glass (that, and the colorful graphics, were the game’s big selling points), and your plastic Spaceman traveled around the United Craters of the Moon collecting Moonbucks. The one with the most Moonbucks wins. No tactics or strategy involved. Just follow the map according to the roll of the dice.

I don’t know what Melvin cost in 1959, but it’s selling on eBay today for up to $150. In 1959 anything over $5 was a major expenditure for my father which my mother would have to weigh carefully. They really must have loved us to buy us silly stuff like this.

And that’s what makes this memory so sweet.


Memory Lane: Colorforms

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Before I venture into the murky waters of the news today, let’s look back on something a bit more pleasant.

Colorforms got started in 1951 and has sold over a billion sets since then.

Do you remember the original Colorforms from the 1950s? I woke in the middle of the night last night, from a dream of falling down the stairs, and for some reason “Colorforms” popped into my head.

What you got was a lot of pieces of thin, soft plastic in assorted shapes, sizes, and bright colors, and a black background that they’d stick to: and you’d arrange them to create pictures. I don’t know if you can still get this old basic Colorforms set, that relies so much on the user’s imagination. Colorforms stays in business by dint of tie-ins with hit TV shows, movies, and other aspects of the wider culture: so you can buy vintage Colorforms sets tied in with old TV shows like Welcome Back, Kotter or The Dukes of Hazzard. I think I prefer the little squares and circles.

Colorforms also tried to get into the paper dolls business, but the problem there was you had to take the designs they gave you. It seems there’s a good reason for paper dolls to be made of paper.

As I rode my bike today, I passed two people, standing five feet apart, texting each other.

Yeah, it’s little squares and circles for me.


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