Richard Hyatt: Sears catalog once signaled beginning of holiday season

October 29, 2013 

When a Toys "R" Us catalogue goes directly from the mailbox into the hands of a 4-year-old, you know you're in trouble.

She can't read, but that did not stop Kamryn. For most of an hour she sat quietly in a recliner perusing the Christmas shopping guide like it was a favorite fairy tale. Pen in hand, she marked items she wants to find under the tree.

Toys "R" Us calls its 80-page shopping guide "The Great Big Wish Finder." Promising that items inside are ones that kids want most, it advertises prices that expire before Thanksgiving dinner is served.

There are toys that cuddle, toys that talk, toys that hug and toys that don't require batteries. To make room for them all would require a new wing be built on to the house.

This was a new experience for Kamryn, but it took me back to another time and another catalogue, one that Sears Roebuck and Company said was a mirror of the times "recording for future historians today's desires, habits, customs and mode of living."

We called it our Wish Book and the first edition came out in 1933, featuring a battery-powered automobile, a Mickey Mouse watch and live singing canaries. By the time I came along we shopped for baseball bats, catcher's mitts or a 15-page booklet that contained hitting tips from Ted Williams.

I came to believe in the name of J.C. Higgins without ever asking who he was. All I knew was that his signature was on ball gloves, fishing rods and shotguns. If I had asked, someone might have told me that the brand was originally named for John Higgins, a bookkeeper at Sears whose expertise in sporting goods is unknown.

The delivery of the Sears catalogue signaled the beginning of the holiday season. Every member of the family could find something they wanted in that book. By the time I graduated from toys and sporting goods and began sneaking glances at the women's underwear section, the Wish Book was fading from the scene.

Kamryn doesn't recognize the Sears, logo but she knows Toys "R" Us. That's why she grabbed the catalogue out of the mailbox on Monday and began to shop.

Retracing her steps, we found that her wish list includes a Disney Princess Little People Klip Klop stable for $34.99, a Doc McStuffins Deluxe Get Better Check-Up Center for $64.99, a Dora Gymnast Doll for $34.99, a Learn & Groove Drum for $14.99, an Imaginarium Steam Train Express for $129.99, an Astro Gazer Telescope for $64.99, a Flutterbye Flying Doll for $27.87 and a You & Me Nursery for $19.99.

If you think that's bad, remember she only went through the first 40 pages. She'll finish shopping when she gets a chance.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at

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