Welcome back to school! Vintage supplies brought students back to classroom in style

By Corbin Crable

Admit it – you used to kind of look forward to the late summer, when it came time to shop for school supplies.

Some supplies, now considered vintage, were status symbols and the envy of your classmates, whether it was a selection from the latest line of Trapper Keepers or that cool Charlie Angel’s lunch box that held your food until lunchtime, when you inevitably trade your potato chips for a cup of chocolate pudding.

A “Lost in Space” lunch box, circa 1967. (Image courtesy of the National Museum of American History)

Vintage school supplies can still be easily found on auction sites. Here are some of the most collectible – whether you decorate your office or classroom with them, you’ll be ready for class to be in session!

Dick and Jane books: These books taught schoolchildren to read starting in the 1930s and used the repetition of words and phrases to help children learn. By 1970, nearly 100 million first-graders had cracked one open.

Reprinted copies remain for sale on Amazon, while if you want to find originals, you’ll find them on eBay.

Big Chief tablets: The thick writing tablet with the iconic red cover allowed you to practice your cursive writing for hours on end. Especially popular from the 1950s through the ‘70s, they stopped being produced a little more than 20 years ago.

Elmer’s rubber cement: A forbidden delicacy to some schoolchildren for decades, thye were everywhere in art classrooms in the 1960s and ‘70s – the small jars with the brush built into the lid.

Trapper Keepers: Introduced by Mead in 1981, they were a mainstay in classrooms in the 1980s. Featuring colorful designs and scenes, these loose-leaf notebooks with a Velcro strap infused an element of style into your everyday homework. Mead still sells a few versions on its official website.

You can check out an extensive visual gallery of retro Trapper Keepers at

Slide rules: Before Texas Instruments began producing its hand-held calculators in the mid-1970s, the rectangular, plastic tools allowed students to perform advanced calculations. Believe it or not, collectors of slide rules do exist, and the tools themselves can still be purchased on eBay.

Metal lunch boxes: Forget those plain lined refrigerator bags you see everywhere nowadays; when you were a kid, you carried your lunch in a metal box emblazoned with images from your favorite TV show or film. Each lunch box inevitably came with a matching thermos that could hold a beverage or soup. Just as much a conversation piece as a functional tool, you displayed your lunch box proudly in the hope of impressing that girl or boy in your class that you secretly liked.

Mr. Sketch Scented Markers: These markers came in a variety of colors and scents, and your teacher used to draw a star on that assignment or even on your hand to signify a job well done. You might get caught sniffing your paper multiple times throughout the school day, but you didn’t care – that purple mark on your paper emitted a delicious grape scent.

It’s a real shame that kids of younger generations will never know the thrill of going to school with your Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper under one arm and your Smurfs lunch box tucked under the other. But hopefully you’ll remember such a time fondly. Class dismissed!


Corbin Crable can be contacted at