The Sears Wish Book, 1977
It’s the holiday season, so what better time to dive into a vintage Sears Christmas catalog?
You might not recognize what this is. This is Amazon, printed out.
Sears carried every kind of product, for most every kind of consumer, and their catalog was an exhaustive list of all of it. The Christmas version was called the Wish Book. As kids, making our Christmas list meant going through this book and circling what we wanted: my wishes in blue pen, my brother’s in red. There was basically nothing we desired that wasn’t in here.
We’ll start with the big milestone in this book, right on the inside cover: the appearance of what is technically an Atari VCS, but here listed with the pithy name of Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade Cartridge System. This product made Atari a household name in the 80s, but in 1977, Sears was way better-known—and far more trusted—so Atari happily sold a rebranded version. 1977 was the very first year it was available.
Note the price:
That’s $700.85 in 2015 dollars. And the games, at $19.95 each, would be $78 now. Video gaming was crazy-expensive then.
The Video Arcade wasn’t Atari’s first sell-through via Sears. For a year or two they’d sold these beauties shown below. $58-$99, now relegated to also-ran status on pages 3–6. (Check out those amazing illustrations, though.)
More established than video games were hand-helds, like this legendary Mattel Electronics’ Football. $26.84, or $105 today. Every boy I knew had one of these.
For the sophisticate, Fidelity Electronics’ Chess Challenger was kind of a big deal then, too. $149.95. And check out the awesome illustration here.
Most of the catalog is clothing. I couldn’t help noticing that Erin Gray, later to become moderately famous on Buck Rogers and Silver Spoons, is everywhere.
There was a huge emphasis on artificial fabrics, apparently not considered a drawback in the least. Most of these clothes were brought to you by Monsanto, Celanese, and DuPont.
Of course, there are styles you will just never see anymore:
You’re probably expecting me to make fun of these folks below, but actually I think they look pretty fantastic:
These folks too:
…though this couple fares less well:
Even after acclimating one’s self to 1977 fashion, there are a few things that will still shock, like the gold boots they were pushing in this two-page spread. $29.99.
…and this huge, inexplicable hard-sell for turbans. “Versatile”…yes! Name even one occasion where a turban wouldn’t work spectacularly.
And this nightgown, which turns your sleepover friend’s chest into a full-on pub game:
Really: you throw those velcro balls right at the numbers, then tally the points. $11.
When I was in grade school, this was in fact how girls dressed:
Sears wasn’t exactly a luxury brand, but still, there’s some stuff you can’t believe they carried, like these alarm clocks. $12.99.
From the Erica Wilson Designer Collection, “Chessie”. $26.96 for the bedspread.
A lot of people had these Scenic Wall Clocks. $19.99-$39.99.
It’s tempting to label this as inexplicable as well. But in 1977 this makes complete sense:
Digital watches were just a few years old in 1977, and this was seemingly the first year Sears had them in their catalog. At between $12.88 and $69.99 ($50 and $275), these prices don’t seem all that bad.
Calculators were starting to drop in price. The fancy Casio CQ-1 with built-in clock and alarm is $49.95.
This one below is about as basic as you can get for $29.95, though I‘d probably choose the way cooler Canon calculator/ruler above for the same price.
Video game sports were lousy in 1977; the best alternative is shown below, in the form of these shaking electric football playfields. (See one in action here, and get a load of the sound.) Line up your plastic players in formation, plug it in, and watch them individually vibrate their way to a completely random spot on the board. $9.94 for the generic model, $17.95 for the NFL-licensed one.
Slot racers were a huge deal, too. $64.88 for a deluxe set.
You could get an actual pinball machine at Sears. $645.
Finally, we’ll wrap up our Wish Book tour over in Home Electronics.
Over in the Sears Sound Shop, record players are the primary way to listen to music. Sears had models ranging in price from $38 to $79.
You’ll need something to play on your brand-new turntable, and what could be better than a selection of ten rock singles, chosen apparently at random? $1.99.
Color TV, while not brand-new in 1977, was still expensive as heck. This 19" model was $369.95, $1,445 in today’s dollars. (Add on the pedestal table for $22.95.)
Remote control. $60.