My Childhood Toys

When my Mother died and I cleaned out her house, I found an astonishing box labeled “Charles’ Toys.” I had no idea any of my toys survived, I thought they’d been tossed out decades ago. I took a peek inside and immediately decided I could not deal with that little trip down Memory Lane, under the emotional circumstances. I packed it away until the time I felt I could look inside. And that time is today. So indulge me while I participate in one of the Internet’s silly little rituals, a photographic “Unboxing.”

Just the sight of the box itself sent me into paroxysms of nostalgia. This is a waterproof box from DeGroot Nurseries, my Dad’s greenhouse used to get 18-wheeler truckloads of green plants in these boxes. And I’d usually have to unload and unpack them, when I worked at the greenhouse on weekends. So in a way, this box is a symbol of Unboxing.


When I first opened the box, over three years ago, this newspaper was on the top of the stack. It’s the Des Moines Register from January 28, 1967, describing the Apollo 1 tragedy. When I saw the headline, I decided that the contents of this box might be too difficult to deal with, just after my Mother died. So I sealed it back up and didn’t open it again until today.


But fortunately, happier memories lay underneath. Oh boy, my old Spirograph! In fact, it’s the deluxe Super Spirograph set. I spent hours and hours fiddling with this this toy. The box is filthy, covered in dust, but who cares? It’s my old toy!


This is a handmade clay piggy bank, this was a souvenir from a vacation trip to Tijuana. I remember we had trouble getting through Customs with it, they wanted to break it open. If I shake it, I can hear a little change rattling around. I never wanted to put money in this bank because it has no opening, to get the change out I’d have to smash it to pieces.

Piggy Bank

Yes, I was a Boy Scout. The Fieldbook is particularly interesting, it has loads of practical information. I remember at Scout Camp we built a wood and rope bridge from instructions in the Fieldbook, using nothing but an axe.

Boy Scout Books

This is my old Boy Scout mess kit, it folds up and everything is contained within the pan and lid, but here I’ve opened it up so you can see everything. I had to drag this along on camping trips and hikes, but I didn’t use it very often. It was hard to clean in the field, so I didn’t think it was very practical.

Boy Scout Mess Kit

Wow, my bag of marbles! I still remember when I was in second grade and we’d play marbles at recess. We’d smooth off a spot in the dirt, draw a ring, and get our biggest, heaviest “shooters” to knock our opponents’ little marbles out of the ring. I remember the school eventually banned marble games, there were too many disputes by sore losers when we played for keepsies.

If you look close, on the right, there’s a tiny little blue high heeled shoe, it must belong to my sisters’ Barbie Dolls. I don’t know how it got in there.


My handprint, cast in plaster. This must be a kindergarten project. My Mom must have kept this precious little memory stored away for years, I don’t recall making it or ever seeing it.


Here are a bunch of books. Obviously I was a space nut, I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. Check out the retro artwork!

Space Travel

Another space book. Sorry, it’s a boring cover with no pretty artwork.

Space And Science

Manuals that came with my telescope.

Worlds Beyond

Manual for an astrolabe! I don’t remember owning this, I sure would enjoy having this astrolabe today. But all I’ve got is the manual.

Star Finder

“How and Why” books, I love the retro artwork. Hmm.. that last book doesn’t seem to fit with the theme of the other books, let’s call it Anthropology so it is vaguely scientific.



Famous Scientists

North American Indians

More space books. Yes, I was really into the space program. So was everybody, back in those days.

Adventures Beyond Our Earth

I remember receiving this book as a birthday present from a friend. I remember thinking, “what the hell?”


Back into space!

Into Space


Souvenir catalogs from the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry, in Chicago. I went back to visit the Museum of Science and Industry a few years ago, all the permanent displays I remember most fondly had been removed, replaced with badly designed interactive computer kiosks.


A souvenir brochure from Mexico, with an Olympics theme. Our whole family visited Mexico in 1968, but it was well before the Olympics so we never saw any of that hoopla.


A book of typeface samples. This isn’t actually my book, I recall buying this as a birthday present for my Grandfather. He had a little letterpress and drawers full of lead type, which I inherited when he died.


Mike Mars, Astronaut. I loved this book, it’s full of cheesy aerospace illustrations. The cover was so plain that I decided to photograph the frontispiece. This book had a big effect on me, I used to constantly make drawings of airplanes, pages and pages full.

Mike Mars

A model of Explorer 18, a primitive satellite launched in 1963. The assembly instructions are crinkled and creased due to little smears of glue. The model is supposed to balance on a little post, but the little metal weights fell off. I guess they hadn’t yet invented SuperGlue back in 1963.

Explorer 18

A box full of plastic figurines of army men, astronauts, and other small toys.

Army Men

I had to laugh at one of the little plastic toys, so I decided to single it out for a solo photo. Sorry it isn’t any clearer, I don’t have a macro lens and this is only about an inch tall. You can almost see it’s a little silver man in a space suit inside a plastic bubble. I laughed because it reminded me of Davros in his Dalek Emperor sphere. But that episode of Doctor Who was probably made 20 years after this toy.


These are the control knobs for my Tasco 6 inch reflecting telescope. My beautiful telescope was stolen, but they didn’t get the control knobs! Oh well, I guess I’ll throw these in the trash, they’re totally useless.

Telescope Controls

Naked GI Joe and a muddy Evel Kinevel figurine. I used to have tons of GI Joe stuff, it’s all highly collectible now, especially stuff I had like Astronaut GI Joe. But my little brother found it and sold it all on eBay. I am still really irked about that.

GI Joe and Evel Kinevel

Here’s a little white cape with a Barbie label sewn inside. This obviously doesn’t belong to me. I thought it might fit the Evel Kinevel figurine, but it’s the wrong size.

Barbie Cape

One segment of wooden track for a toy railroad. I remember I had a ton of this, I was always laying out tracks on the living room floor, and then when I had everything set up the way I wanted it, my parents would make me clean it up and put it all away. I wish I had the rest of this set, it would fill a huge box by itself.

Wooden Railroad Track

I have saved the best for last: a Mattel Vac-U-Form. I must have burned myself on this toy hundreds of times, it was eventually recalled as a safety hazard. But what is really amazing, a box full of unused parts! The Vac-U-Form is highly collectible, but the original sheets of plastic are virtually unobtainable at any price. And I’ve got a whole bunch of them. Maybe I’ll fire it up for a little project.

Mattel Vac-U-Form

Vac-U-Form Parts

Well that is everything in the box. That was quite a trip down Memory Lane, everything in this box dates back to the 1960s. I can’t believe my Mom kept these toys carefully stored away for decades, it is her final gift to me. It brings a tear to my eye, not just seeing my favorite toys, but to think of my Mother keeping them for me to rediscover. That is a greater gift than any toy.

7 thoughts on “My Childhood Toys”

  1. I owned many of those same books and a few of the games, as a youngster. This seems to be a very common practice, keeping boxes of this type. They hold a parent’s memories as well.
    It also seems to me that there is also something ‘protective’ involved – the parent acting as a safe-keeper.

  2. points to vac-u-form
    me too, me too. er well don’t recall burning myself. but i’m sure i melted and/or burned other things besides those sheets of plastic.
    [There were other official Mattel products to burn in the Vac-U-Form. I recall I had the “Creepy Crawlies” set, it had molds you baked to create colorful plastic bugs. But alas that set did not make it into my toy box. –Charles]

  3. I just purchased an old vac-u-form online for a couple of hobby projects I am working on. You can get plastic sheets for it and parts at this website:
    Apparently the old vac-u-forms are popular with modellers and hobbyists.
    (p.s: i still have my old g.i. joe stuff, and had my younger brothers professionally refurbished and repackaged as a christmas present. he loves it, but his 5 year old wants to play with it!)
    [I think my Vac-u-form was defective, I remember I could never pump it fast enough to get a good vacuum and get a good impression in the plastic sheet. Maybe the pump seals were bad, I notice your link offers pump upgrades. Wow, people are still really into this. –Charles]

  4. Vac-U-Form! Spirograph! Mine mine mine mine.
    I never burned myself, and our unit worked pretty well. The thicker plastic was difficult. I always wondered what happened that they’re not available now.
    I’d still have my spirograph (the British edition, same gears), but moved too much.
    Thanks for posting this, you and your mom helped me show this to my son.

  5. Wow. I am 40-years-old, and don’t recall any of the toys, of course. I can relate to the books on space, chemistry, and weather because I loved all that..and still do. While looking at your photographs and reading the captions, I found myself becoming emotional. I admire your moving forward and opening the box your mom had put away just for a special day. My condolences go out to you and your family, yet I know your mother was smiling down upon you while you were “going back in time”. She will always be with you in your heart..and in spirit. And always cherish the special memories that go along with your “special” box. Take care, my friend.

  6. Man – you’ve brought back memories. Mike Mars, Vac-u-form, I had those and a lot of the space books too.
    Dealing with what’s left after your folks are gone is difficult – mine wasn’t anywhere near as bad as yours, but I still had problems doing it. Without the memories it would have taken about two hours – they were in an assisted living facility – as it was it took three days.
    Got my brother’s stuff taken care of in less than an hour – no memories attached to the stuff in his apartment. Hardest part was the storage locker and papers he’d saved… and I gave almost all of the items in it to his girlfriend.
    We are captives of our memories – and the bonds are very, very strong…

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