Retro School Supplies
Reiko Nakagawa/EyeEm/gettyimages

Vintage School Supplies That Take Us Back to Childhood

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Retro School Supplies
Reiko Nakagawa/EyeEm/gettyimages

Notebooks and Nostalgia

Back-to-school shopping remains as much of a ritual as ever, but the gear that's filling today's backpacks looks a little different than it did several decades ago. Whether you learned to read with Dick and Jane, brought your PB&J in a metal lunch box or corralled your papers in a Trapper Keeper, here's your trip down memory lane.

Related: 25 Childhood Cereals We Wish They Would Bring Back

Trapper Keepers
Source: eBay

Trapper Keepers

Rolled out nationwide in 1981, Mead's Trapper Keeper was a runaway hit, dominating kids' back-to-school wishlists for most of the '80s and '90s. This three-ring binder with an iconic "trapper" flap on the front came in a huge number of designs and was sold practically everywhere. Sales tapered off in the new millennium, and Mead was forced to replace the largely PVC binders with safer materials. While Trapper Keepers have been produced sporadically in recent years, they've largely been supplanted by Mead's Five Star binders. Gotta have the real deal? You can find vintage versions on eBay.

Scratch 'n' Sniff Stickers
Source: eBay

Scratch 'n' Sniff Stickers

Mr. Sketch didn't have an olfactory monopoly in the classroom. Most children of the '70s and '80s fondly remember scratch 'n' sniff stickers that teachers affixed to spelling tests, homework, and anything that showed a little extra effort. (Our personal favorite? The chocolate-scented "Scooper Dooper" ice-cream cone.) While today's teachers have mostly moved on to foil stars or written affirmations, scratch 'n' sniffs are still on the market. If you want to go old school, check out Etsyor eBay.

Lisa Frank Everything
Source: eBay

Lisa Frank Everything

For children of the late '80s and early '90s, nothing was safe from the Lisa Frank empire. Everything from folders and notebooks to erasers and pencil boxes came festooned in whimsical neon and rainbow colors, often featuring unicorns, big-eyed cheetahs, puppies, and kittens. Today, Lisa Frank's designs are licensed to other companies, and you can still find stickers, puzzles, bedding, and assorted other products on Amazon.

'Dick and Jane' Books
Source: eBay

'Dick and Jane' Books

These iconic early readers were a staple of classrooms as early as the '30s, and by 1970, a staggering 85 million first-graders had plowed through the repetitive texts, according to Mental Floss. But they gradually fell out of favor for two main reasons: First, at many schools, phonics replaced the whole-word reading method that the books used; and second, "Dick and Jane" simply didn't reflect increasingly diverse student bodies. Today, if you've just gotta "see Jane run," they're easily tracked down on Amazon, while pricier originals are all over eBay.

Bic Four-Color Pens
Source: eBay

Bic Four-Color Pens

Click. Click. Click. Click. No doubt the sound these things made drove teachers batty, but in the '70s and '80s, Bic's fat-barreled, four-color pen was one of kids' favorite writing instruments. Unleashed upon the U.S. in 1971 after a successful launch in France, the iconic pen remains on the market today and is even available in different versions, including "fashionable" pastels. Oh, and that little ball at the top? It wasn't just a design flourish — according to Bic, it was meant to help people dial rotary phones.

Pee-Chee Folders
Source: eBay

Pee-Chee Folders

Around since the '40s, Pee-Chee folders really cemented their icon status in the '60s, after an illustrator decided to decorate the yellow folders with images of athletic youngsters playing football, tennis, basketball, and other sports. Of course, students took it upon themselves over the next few decades to doodle on their Pee-Chees in ways innocent and … not so innocent. Mead still sells these decidedly retro folders and has even added other color choices.

Metal Lunch Boxes
Source: eBay

Metal Lunch Boxes

Until the 1980s, metal lunch boxes were a common sight in school cafeterias. Their heyday started in the '50s, when enterprising executives at Aladdin started putting popular characters on them; soon, they would feature everything from superheroes to The Beatles. A few decades later, manufacturers turned to cheaper molded plastic. Though you can still track down metal or plastic lunch boxes online (including some vintage finds), stores today almost exclusively sell insulated, soft-sided lunch bags.

CliffsNotes
Source: eBay

CliffsNotes

Long before the Internet and its infinite wisdom, students' favorite homework shortcuts came bundled in small booklets with black and yellow stripes. These study guides that famously summarized classic literature became popular in the '60s and remained popular over the next few decades, despite objections from teachers who said they made it too easy to cheat. Today, the company makes its literature guides available for free online and has refocused on study and test-prep guides to stay profitable.

Mr. Sketch Markers
Source: eBay

Mr. Sketch Markers

Markers used to be a sweeter-smelling affair. Mr. Sketch markers were introduced in the mid-1960s, and kids' masterpieces used to smell like cherry (red), grape (purple), mint (green) and a host of other scents. Though never off the shelves entirely, Mr. Sketch was reintroduced in 2014 to a new generation with a commercial that featured a flatulent blueberry. Today the markers are available at major retailers including Walmart, but don't be surprised if your kid's supply list insists on Crayola.

Big Chief Tablets
Source: eBay

Big Chief Tablets

Big Chief probably wouldn't fly today (just ask the embattled Chief Wahoo) but these ubiquitous thick red tablets were a common sight on school desks throughout the '50s, '60s, and '70s. Production changed hands between a few companies over the years, eventually coming to a halt roughly 20 years ago. But never underestimate the power of nostalgia: There are still versions on Amazon up for grabs.

Pop-a-Point Pencils
Source: eBay

Pop-a-Point Pencils

If Bic's four-color pen had a pencil counterpart, it was the Pop-a-Point pencil. Popular around the same time, these pencils were filled with small plastic cartridges with sharp, graphite tips. As soon as the tip became too blunt, you pulled out the little cartridge, pushed it into a hole at the end of the pencil, and voila – a new cartridge with a new writing tip popped forward. Today, they're largely a novelty item, but you can indulge your inner child by tracking them down online.

Slide Rules
Source: eBay

Slide Rules

Today, powerful calculators are a requirement for high-schoolers plodding through advanced mathematics classes. But Texas Instruments wouldn't begin distributing its handheld scientific calculators to consumers until the middle of the '70s. Before then, students had to rely on slide rules to perform tricky calculations. Often made of wood or plastic, they were usually rectangular and had logarithmic scales along the side; students could often follow along as their teacher used a larger slide rule to demonstrate how to solve a problem. Today, they're a favorite of collectors and are up for grabs on eBay.

Paste and Rubber Cement
Source: eBay

Paste and Rubber Cement

Maybe it came in a squat jar with a brush, or maybe you got to use the fancy container with the rubber spreader on top. Whatever you used in the '60s and '70s for art projects, chances are it was paste or rubber cement. Both are still available but have largely been replaced by glue sticks or those ubiquitous bottles of Elmer's with the orange tip. Of course, that means today's kids will never know the joy of rolling balls of rubber cement between their fingers or secretly eating paste (spoiler alert: it wasn't that bad for us after all).

Satchels
Source: Etsy

Satchels

The modern backpack is so prevalent that it's easy to forget that there was something that came before: the satchel. Up until JanSport helped spur a revolution in the '70s, backpacks were mostly reserved for outdoorsy uses like hiking, and students often relied on single-strap canvas and leather bags that buckled shut to lug around their books and homework. Of course, there are still plenty of satchels on the market today, but you're better off looking for them using their modern name: messenger bags.

Floppy Disks
malerapaso/istockphoto

Floppy Disks

If you were lucky enough to be doing schoolwork on a personal computer during the '80s and '90s, a floppy disk was probably your constant companion. At the beginning of the Reagan era, 5.25-inch floppies reigned supreme, but eventually gave way to more portable 3.25-inch disks. The rest, of course, is history — floppies ceded the market to read-writable CDs and DVDs by the new millennium, then USB drives. The latter remains a popular way for today's students to store and carry their digital work — if, of course, they haven't simply stored it in the cloud.

Eraser Mates
Source: eBay

Eraser Mates

Having the coolest school supplies has always been a status symbol, and in the '80s, there was nothing cooler than doing your work with an Eraser Mate. Paper Mate introduced its famous erasable-ink pen in 1979, and even though there was definite room for improvement (we still remember the smell and the runny ink), the novelty factor ensured their popularity with kids. Today, improved Eraser Mates are still in stores, but they face stiff competition from better-reviewed Pilot FriXion erasable, gel-ink pens.

Novelty Erasers
Source: eBay

Novelty Erasers

In the '80s, teachers were a little more lax about the school supplies they let into their classrooms, and kids took full advantage in the form of novelty erasers. These colorful rubber gems often didn't work that well, spreading pencil smudges and sometimes even shredding paper. Still, function was beside the point — they just looked cool. Our favorite varieties included the erasers that looked like food and the ubiquitous rainbow designs.

Marbled Composition Books
Source: eBay

Marbled Composition Books

Of all the supplies on our list, marbled composition books are probably still in widest use today and might be one of the most iconic school supplies of all time. The eye-catching design likely made its way stateside from Europe in the late 1800s, and it's been a top seller here ever since, likely thanks to the stitched, spiral-free binding that means papers can't escape. Virtually every paper company still makes its own version, including brand names like Mead, but store brands are widely available at big-box stores, often for under a buck a piece.