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Official Article

Sears Wishbook Finds 1986-1989

I recently discovered an amazing time travel device. No, it’s not a DeLorean. It’s not even a phone booth from the future. This amazing creation is called the and it has claimed all my free time over the holidays. A dedicated individual name Jason Liebig from has scanned every page of the Sears catalogs released from 1937-1996 which is no small task.

I personally spent hours flipping through these books as a child and this online resource instantly transports me back to the age of consumer innocence. Within these pages are items which I remembered fondly, many forgotten through the passage of time and several products I never knew existed. Today I am going to share 15 of the most unique items from the 1989-1986 Sears Wishbooks that stopped me in my tracks.

Disneyland Playset (1986)

Our first stop is this plastic Disneyland train set that I actually owned as a 4 year old. I remember setting these yellow track pieces up on the living room floor and playing for hours with the little figurines of Mickey, Donald, Goofy and strangely enough, The Three Little Pigs. The tiny recreations of famous Disneyland rides like the Rocket Jets of Tomorrowland and the Mark Twain Riverboat from Frontierland were a lot of fun and although there was never a ferris wheel at the happiest place on earth, watching Huey, Duey and Luey rotate around that device was mesmerizing. So fun to see it on display again.

Centurions Watches (1986)

Warning: You’re going to see a lot of wrist mounted toys throughout this list, so strap in. I have long been fascinated by Centurions as a property, it always seemed right on the edge of being iconic, but the figures were so big, bulky and expensive, it was one Kenner line that never endured. You might remember the transforming robot watches of the mid-80s that could actually take on the appearance of a basic digital timepiece, but these Centurions models throw all caution to the wind and shout, “This is a toy, that you wear!” These are less watches than actual action figures complete with weapons, that just happen to have a time display in the chest.

Madballs Safety Pads (1986)

The monster phenomenon was huge in the mid-80s with horror movies doing big business and Fangoria magazine on magazine racks, so it makes sense that Madballs would be as big a hit as they were. Aside from the original baseball sized mutants, they had spring loaded head launching action figures, a cartoon, a Marvel comic book and apparently, knee and elbow pads. I really was not expecting to find this style of licensed merchandise sporting the Madballs faces, but it's awesome that they existed. I especially like that one of the pads has a zipper coin pouch so you could easily bring your money to the store to buy more Madballs.

OK, this one is not one of my items, I just wanted to show you how absolutely jam-packed with product the Sears Wishbooks were back in the day. Yes, that is a photo of models in bikini briefs next to a Crayola crayon holder and a baby sled. I’d love to fall back on, “Hey, it was the 80s”, but I’m almost certain this was the catalog layout artists getting their jollies through awkward photo placement. "22 Little Christmas Surprises" indeed!

Sears Building Kits (1986)

Here’s another toy I actually had experience with as a kid. Family friends of our had 6 kids and they were always looking for a way to entertain them. The parents bough this set and told the kids to get creative. Well, I was there the day they decided to build a car out of these random tubes and connectors, which was all well and good. It was where we decided to put the vehicle to the test that was questionable. 

Looking for a hill where we could really get some speed, the oldest son, Keith decided we should use the hill behind their backyard the fence. The only issue was that the hill led down to a busy street that ran through the center of town. My older brother was actually hit by a car jaywalking on this street, so of course I said nothing to discourage my daredevil friends. We perched the vehicle on the hill and with 2 siblings inside it raced down towards oncoming traffic. Luckily the ivy covered hill caught the wheels and prevented our “doom buggy” from getting more than 3 feet down, but man, talk about 80s parents not paying attention.

WWF Wrestling Superstars (1987)

Let me tell you something, brother, these wrestling figures by LJN were a major part of my childhood and seeing them on display like this was a real treat. I inherited the ring with 7-8 figures from my friend’s older brother in 1st grade including a few in this ad like Hulk Hogan, Ricky Steamboat and King Kong Bundy. But what strikes me are the later additions to the line I never knew existed. Kamala is an obvious choice, but Ted Arcidi? I picked up a Mean Gene Okerlund at RetroCon in 2017, but Ken Patera AND S.D. Jones? I guess every roster over the years has had talents who endured and those performers that even Vince McMahon couldn’t get over. 

Captain Power and Bravestarr Pajamas (1987)

Can we please just return to a day when Captain Planet diehards didn’t take up arms against those space cowboy loving Bravestarr fans? This dystopian future we live in where allegiance to your favorite 80s Mattel action figure property can be life threatening is too much. But seriously, how heartwarming is this scene of 2 brothers/cousins/orphanage roommates sharing a bowl of popcorn in front of the Christmas tree, presumably calling a truce over the TV watching for one night to tune into the Will Vinton Claymation Christmas special or other wholesome holiday fare? I always preferred my pajamas to look like the costume of my favorite heroes, but the graphics printed onto this polyester-cotton sleepwear are fantastic. 

Yorx TV Stereo (1987)

For those of you too young to remember the era before one handheld piece of electronics could be a music, video and communication device, may I present the monstrosity that is, the Yorx TV Stereo. An AM/FM stereo that claims to feature a triple tape deck (I only see 2) and the central selling point of a tiny black and white UHF/VHF TV screen, this thing would have been my holy grail of electronics had I known it existed. The idea of a television being anything but a giant wooden box in our family living room was a fantasy I had for many years and scraping together $300 bucks would have seemed totally justified to own it. Granted I would have only been able to tune into old reruns of Mr. Ed and Hogan’s Heroes on this “futuristic” innovation, but in the 80s we had simpler tastes.

Hair Flair Wigs (1987)

If anyone can point me to the origin of this 80s fashion trend, I would be very grateful. This neon, spiky poof hair style was all the rage in the mid to late 80s and seemed closely tied to "Girl Rock", yet I can’t think of any member of The Bangles, Heart or The Go-Go’s that sported it. More often it was guys in groups like Kajagoogoo that rocked this look. Obviously the first thing that comes to mind is JEM, but I don’t know that The Hologram’s fashion sense extended beyond the 7-10 year old girl demographic, who Hair Flair was clearly aimed at. I think the mystery is ultimately solved by the fact that the pink model is titled “Glitter Rock Tina Wig”. I assume they’re referencing Tina Turner, which makes sense in retrospect, but my brain would never have connected her leggy R&B pop stylings with Glitter Rock. 

Infra-Red Remote Control Tank (1987)

Whaaaa-?! Are you seeing what I’m seeing? These are Laser Tag assault vehicles for action figures! The description claims, “Hours and hours of fun!” and I believe it. Why didn’t Hasbro incorporate these awesome vehicles into their G.I. Joe: Real American Hero line? Mattel was already trying it out with Bravestarr and Captain Power, but it seems like a perfect fit for the fight against Cobra. I’m fascinated by off-brand accessories for popular toy lines and this one feels like a home run. It’s especially fun since the catalog photographer plopped Wetsuit and Dial-Tone into the cockpit of these tanks for a Joe combat exercise that neither were qualified for.

Disney Storage Trunk (1988)

Anytime I come across branded Disney merchandise from 1988 I get very excited. The reason being, that’s the year they decided to give Mickey and Minnie a makeover in a chic 80s style. What I didn’t know was that the whole Disney crew decided to redefine their image, but this storage trunk shows that to be the case. You’ve got Pluto rocking a Walkman, Donald getting wild on a skateboard and Goofy looking studly in a flight jacket, cap and shades. I’m really anxious to find more merchandise from this era now, so far I’ve only come across some PVC figurines and a mug, but I really want a poster. So if you come across a print of this group shot, let me know.

Now it’s time for another, what the-?! Catalog moment. Advertised here is a bubbler to put into your normal bathtub that turns it into a makeshift jacuzzi, but that’s not the crazy part. This model is going au natural for this photo shoot. Apparently modesty finally prevailed in the minds of the designers here, realizing they had to hastily cover up this woman in the buff, but notice how they chose to do so. It appears she is planning a road trip because that is a map of the United States awkwardly inserted into her hands, UPSIDE DOWN! I just…I don’t know what to say and I’ve already said way too much.

Plasma FX Ball (1988)

Every 80s kid wanted one of these things in their bedroom growing up. These plasma balls were the perfect blending of science and magic to capture our imaginations, for about 5 minutes or so. I always wanted to use one of these as a prop in a home movie production, pretending that I was some kind of cross between the Wicked Witch of the West and Solar Man from Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. But $130 was hard to come by for a 6 year old, so I had to settle for sneaking into my friend’s older brother’s room to get a few zaps in before he caught me in his lair of awesomeness. As we transition from 1988-1989 I feel compelled to share a couple of devices forged in the likenesses of a pop culture icons whose popularity dominated that 2 year period.

ALF Novelty Phone (1988) and ALF Digital Watch (1989)

Back in the day, it was almost expected that a cartoon, TV or movie character for kids would inspire their own novelty phone, less likely was for that phone to covered completely in synthetic fur. On one hand it was nice to have a screen accurate replica of ALF to hold your phone receiver, but you sure didn’t want to take a call while eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, that would be murder to get out of that wild, brown body hair.

The ALF digital watch produced 1 year later was just as furry and twice as creepy. By wrapping the band around your arm, it made it look like Gordon Shumway had mistaken your wrist for his favorite snack (cats) and decided to chow down. At first I thought it was a slap bracelet watch, but alas, it is merely a Velcro attachment system.

Pee-wee Herman Watch (1988/1989)

While we’re on the subject of watches I couldn’t overlook these 2 different designs crafted to look like the 80s favorite perpetual man-child, Pee-wee Herman. The 1988 model uses the watchband to provide Pee-wee with a 2-dimensional painted version of his signature red bowtie, while the 1989 model features a fully sculpted bowtie with the band sporting the pattern of Mr. Herman’s iconic grey suit. I also got a kick out of seeing Pee-wee next to his CBS Saturday morning broadcast buddies the Muppet Babies, as they were often shown back to back during my viewing times.

Hitachi Color Video Printer (1989)

Not willing to have Mom work the camera, while Dad man’s the video camera and have $1,000 you just can’t wait to spend? Then the Hitachi Color Video Printer is the device you’ve been waiting for, Mr. Moneybags! So this marvel of electronics allowed you to pause your home videos and print out full color photos from the screen. This sounds like a good idea at first, but when you take into consideration how blurry and grainy most home video recordings were it seems very unlikely the printed photo would be worthy of framing or saving in an album. Seeing as I probably would have used it to print off pictures of Alyssa Milano and Nicole Eggert to put on my bedroom walls, it’s probably a good thing my parent’s never splurged on this one.

Robocop Sweatshirt (1989)

It may seem like we’re going out with a whimper instead of a bang, but I was just so tickled at the juxtaposition of a Robocop sweatshirt being promoted next to one emblazoned with Mickey Mouse. This is something I used to think only 80s kids got to experience, seeing an R-rated hero sharing shelf space with a wholesome animated icon, but with the popularity of Deadpool among today’s kids who had no business seeing the debauchery in that raunchy comic book adventure, it looks like history is repeating itself.

What an adventure, huh? This wasn’t even a fraction of the vintage merchandise that transported me to another time, but these were certainly some of the highlights. You really should check out for yourself to see what tickles your nostalgia bone.

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pikachulover Posted on Feb 09, 2019 at 09:49 AM

My neighbor and I used to go the Toys R Us and look at the play 80s wigs. And I found some late 80s style Mickey Mouse stuff if you put "80s Mickey" sometimes you can find it.

Dalek227 Posted on Feb 05, 2019 at 04:35 AM

This was awesome, and thanks for the heads up about the website with the wish book uploads! I know what i'm doing all night bwhaha!!
And I just messaged my mom on facebook because I swear we had that Disney trunk with Mickey and the gang on it!

OldSchool80s Posted on Feb 02, 2019 at 03:09 AM

Had a whole bunch of those LJN Wrestling Superstars. Those Sears Catalogs really are true time machines and dripping with nostalgia!

NLogan Posted on Jan 31, 2019 at 03:46 PM

Jason Liebig is cool if you credit him. He used to be an editor for marvel comics on Wolverine and Uncanny X-Men (during the stupid no nose, pirate mask, bone clawed, feral Wolverine period). He collects packaging and other ephemeral nostalgia pieces like catalogs. He has done quite a bit of work to show off his rare pieces. He called me out once for not crediting him. I reminded him that since most if not all are scans of actual packaging or product catalogs, with designs for playground equipment, catalog pages,etc. I failed to see how he would own images that are clearly copyrighted and or restricted by either the McDonald's corporation or Setmakers incorporated, or Sears, Hasbro, Kenner, whatever food corporation, etc. in the first place. I asked him if he got permission from them to photograph or scan their artist's works, designs, sculpts, products, food item packaging, and characters?
The photos are in the public domain and he is displaying them on a website whose motto is "Share your photos, Watch the world" Flickr, or his own like candy collectors, or the wishbook one. I suggested that if he felt that he owned the images of trademarked McDonald's Characters or food items produced by McDonald's or other companies I suggest either putting a watermark over his images, putting them in a private gallery to be sold, or not displaying them over the public access portion of the internet. He told me to just be courteous and source his photos if I use them. He turned out to be a pretty cool guy with similar interests (besides his involvement with Wolverine at his worst, I have forgiven him I would have jumped at the chance to work on a book with my favorite character, it is not like he was the artist). Just make sure he is credited. A link to his website doesn't hurt either. You did both I see no problem. I have been visiting the candy collecting and wishbook sites for years and would have directed you to them sooner had I known you were unaware. I thought they were pretty much common knowledge and even used one I think to show you your Transformers pajamas.

Vaporman87 Posted on Jan 31, 2019 at 10:40 AM

Just sleep with one eye open for now. Until the coast is clear. LOL

Hoju Koolander Posted on Jan 31, 2019 at 12:37 AM

@vaporman87 Well, I do credit him and his site directly here, so I think we're on the level. It's really a tribute to all his hard work in creating this incredible archive.

Vaporman87 Posted on Jan 30, 2019 at 11:33 PM

So... many... watches...

Man, I would have killed for one of those Hitachi Video Printers back in the day! As well as the Yorx boom box. What a treasure trove of awesome stuff these catalogs are. You just can't beat 'em.

Finally, I thought that name sounded familiar. Jason Liebig is the same dude who, way back when, was upset with our cereal box gallery and some images that OldSchool80s used in his McDonald's article, because they were used without consent (although one of his inferiors did grant us permission to use the cereal box images). Am I to assume you got permission to use these images? If not, he may send an assassin to kill us all.

Benjanime Posted on Jan 30, 2019 at 08:11 PM

there was nothing quite like perusing shop catalogues for games and toys, then you get to the part of the catalogue when they start showing guns and gun racks and question why it immediately goes there lol.

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