12 Vintage School Supplies You Can Still Buy

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If you're at all like me, the back to school season makes you incredibly nostalgic. Not for actually going back to school, of course, but for all the awesome school supplies you'd buy before hitting class. Thankfully, you can relive your elementary school glory days—and spice up your boring office—by buying these vintage back-to-school staples.

1. Trapper Keeper

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Trapper Keeper was more than just a school supply—it was a status symbol. The unchallenged MVP of school supplies has recently made a comeback: You can buy regular binders, outfit your tablet with a Trapper Keeper-inspired cover, or buy a vintage model on Ebay.

2. Lisa Frank Stuff

Back in the day, girls had to have anything and everything Lisa Frank: Stickers, folders, notebooks, and, yes, Trapper Keepers. Frank doesn’t venture out in public anymore, but you can still buy her stuff, from stickers to calendars to pens, on Amazon, and Lisa Frank-inspired costumes at Urban Outfitters.

3. Yikes Pencils

These pencils were so much better that your typical No. 2: They had personality, coming in many different shapes and patterns. As the 1993 commercial above points out, “you can’t look sharp with dull pencils.” They’re not made anymore (though there is a petition going to bring them back), but you can still find Yikes pencils on Ebay. They’re sure to be conversation starters around the office.

4. Erasermate Pens

It took Paper Mate more than a decade to develop the erasable ink used in Erasermate pens, which hit the U.S. market in 1979. The thrill of being able to write in pen and erase it if you made a mistake was undeniable when you were a kid. (It hardly mattered that most of the time there was some ink left behind even after you’d erased.) These days, of course, we hardly write notes—but when we do, they’re almost illegible. So you can whip these out, erase what you’ve written, and make your handwriting slightly more decipherable.

5. Mr. Sketch Scented Markers

These markers, which debuted in the mid-1960s, were on every kid’s back-to-school wish list. And not just because they were good for coloring: Sniffing these scented markers was a favorite activity—and every kid had their favorite marker, too. (Mine was raspberry.) Though these markers were off the market for a while, they’ve recently been reintroduced for this year’s back-to-school season. Pick some up and use them to give your memos a little something extra.

6. Gelly Roll Pens

The Sakura Color Products Corporation released their Ballsign pens, the first pens to use gel ink, in Japan in 1984. When they brought the pens to the U.S. in 1989, the company changed its product’s name to Gelly Roll, and the pens became a staple on mid-’90s back-to-school lists.

The company began trying to create a gel ink formula that they could use in early 1980. “In the beginning, we failed many times,” Shigeyasu Inoue, an original member of the team, recounts on the Sakura website. “Each time we developed a new prototype, a whole new set of problems would arise. We spent endless hours studying each problem, resolving them one-by-one. There were many ideas---many led to dead-ends. Others had merit, but could only be tried once we resolved other issues. It was a difficult process.” The team got close but still needed one ingredient to crack the formula; they tried everything from anything with the consistency of jelly—including agar, grated yam, and egg whites—before stumbling upon the food additive xanthan gum in a trade journal. They applied for a patent on the ink in 1982, then spent two years developing a pen that could be used with it.

The pens celebrate their 30th anniversary this year; you can get them all, from classic to Moonlight to metallic and beyond, right here.

7. Pencil Grips

These grips were supposed to adjust a child’s grasp so he wrote the right way—or at least make all those hours pressing a pencil to paper more bearable. But they came in so many cool shapes and colors that they made plain old pencils a little more fun. You can get ergonomic grips here and neon triangle grips (which is what I had!) here.

8. Multi-color pens

Why use a boring black or blue pen when you could have a pen that had four or more colors? These pens were prone to jamming back in the day, but current models—which we use here at mental_floss—work much more smoothly.

9. Pencil Toppers

Why did many elementary school girls choose to stick tiny nude trolls on top of their pencils? Who knows, but you can still get them on Etsy or eBay. If you’re not into trolls, there are plenty of other fun pencil toppers, too, like these ones that look like wild animals or these crazy, Koosh-like balls!

10. Pop-A-Point Pencils

Kids never had to sharpen these pencils: When they wore the point down to the nub, they simply pulled it out and inserted it into the back of the pencil, which pushed a new point forward. The new points were super sharp—almost enough to stab yourself! You could get them clear, with patterns, and even scented, and they’re available on Amazon right now.

11. Tiny Erasers

How useful were these super small erasers? I can’t remember, but I do remember that I could never resist buying them at the school store. Now you can get 500 for under $10 on Amazon.

12. Pencil Boxes

Elementary school kids stored all of their many pens and pencils in the iconic Spacemaker pencil box, which had a distinctive bumped top. Unfortunately, they’re not made anymore (although you can find some on eBay and Etsy), but you can still find plenty of options to cover with Lisa Frank stickers that will do the job just fine.

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August 25, 2014 - 7:00pm
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