Vintage School Supplies Students Would Love Today
Students need school supplies when it's time to go back to school. That means they have a long list of back-to-school stuff for their parents to buy.
The first education system began in China with the Xia dynasty around 2076 B.C. While we don't know how many tissue boxes ancient Chinese parents had to donate to the classroom, school supplies have existed for a long time.
Most of the tools students used centuries ago are nothing like what kids use now. But some things never go out of style. For a fun blast to the past, check out these vintage school supplies that students would love today.
15. Troll Doll Pencil Toppers
When it was invented: 1959
Why we loved it: Troll dolls were dreamed up by a Danish woodcutter named Thomas Dam. The first doll was made as a Christmas present for his daughter, carved by hand. The other local children adored the design, and so Dam became the inventor of one of the most popular toy lines of the century.
Eventually, the dolls were adapted to fit over pencils as a decoration, and almost every kid had a collection of them stashed away in their pencil case.
Today's Version of Pencil Toppers
You can still find Troll Doll pencil toppers on eBay, but cute eraser toppers are much more popular.
The ones shown here are actually chewable, so if you or your kiddo has a tendency to chew on the end of your pencil, give these a try.
Learn more: Chewelry Chewable Pencil Toppers (6-Pack), $14.99
14. Rubber Cement
When it was invented: 1823
Why we loved it: Charles Macintosh, a Scottish chemist, invented rubber cement as a way of waterproofing items of clothing. It later became used in schools to complete craft projects and other assignments.
Rubber cement was a good start, but it didn't form as secure and long-lasting of a bond as today's glue options can.
Today's Version of Rubber Cement
Elmer's School Glue has been around for years, and it's way better than old-fashioned rubber cement.
There are versions that start out purple and dry clear so you can tell when the glue is set, permanent glue sticks, and repositionable glue sticks in case you accidentally paste something in the wrong place.
Collages are easier today than they ever were in the 1950s.
Learn more: Elmer's All Purpose Glue Sticks, 3 Count, $5.09
When it was invented: 1951
Why we loved it: When Wite-Out was invented by Bette Nesmith Graham, she originally named it "mistake out." At the time, it was made of ordinary white tempura paint.
It was included on school supply lists for years until pencils became more frequently used than pens, and the increased use of computers made correcting mistakes less of a necessity.
Today's Version of White Out
Let's face it. No one really needs Wite-Out anymore. Kids today usually use pencils or type out their assignments, so fixing mistakes isn't often necessary.
That said, the product still exists, and the tape version is way less messy than the original liquid version.
Learn more: Bic Wite-Out Brand EZ Correct Correction Tape, $5.48
12. Speak & Spells
When it was invented: 1978
Why we loved it: The first Speak & Spell was launched at a Consumer Electronics Show, and it was one of the first portable devices to use interchangeable game cartridges.
It was a game, but it was also educational, helping kids practice their spelling and tracking which words they had already mastered.
It was mostly used during the 1980s, but a Spanish version was later released in 1992.
Today's Version of Speak & Spells
Why bother with a Speak & Spell when you could get a device that also comes with Netflix and thousands of games? Apple iPads are pretty much a staple of modern education.
They're used in schools as early as kindergarten, and there are dozens of educational apps to help kids learn to read, practice math, learn new languages and more.
Learn more: 2020 Apple iPad (10.2-inch, Wi-Fi, 32GB), $299
11. Lisa Frank Brand Merch
When it was invented: 1979
Why we loved it: Lisa. Freaking. Frank. There was no bigger designer of school supplies than Lisa Frank during the 1980s and '90s. What's incredible is that Frank began her brand, Lisa Frank Inc, when she was just 24.
She started out making colorful stickers and soon branched out to design notebooks, art supply sets, folders and tons of other school supplies. Throughout the '90s, Lisa Frank products were the must-have designs for any grade-schooler.
Today's Version of Lisa Frank
Some Lisa Frank merchandise is still available, but Lisa Frank styles have given way to folders decorated with cartoon alpacas, unicorns and mermaids, just to name a few.
Jojo Siwa items are also popular.
Learn more: Pukka Pad, Carpe Diem, 2 Pocket Folder Organizer, $14.99
10. Mr. Sketch Scented Markers
When it was invented: 1965
Why we loved it: Mr. Sketch scented markers first hit the scene in the 1960s, and they rapidly became an elementary school craze.
The smell of purple grape Mr. Sketch markers instantly takes '90s babies straight back to kindergarten, sitting on a rug printed with the alphabet in Gap sweatshirts and overalls.
Smell can trigger memories more than any other sense, and the smell of Mr. Sketch definitely equates to a core memory.
9. Manual Pencil Sharpeners
When it was invented: 1894
Why we loved it: The hand-cranked pencil sharpen was a classroom staple for decades, and some classrooms still have one mounted to the wall.
Kids also were often required to carry their own handheld sharpeners in their bookbags to use at home.
Today's Version of the Handheld Pencil Sharpener
Pencils are far from obsolete, but mechanical pencils are used much more frequently than old-fashioned No. 2's.
Old mechanical pencils had fine lead that broke too easily for younger children to use, but Paper Mate now makes ergonomic pencils with a heavier lead that's perfect for small hands.
Learn more: Paper Mate Handwriting Triangular Mechanical Pencil Set, $6.09
8. Pens with Erasers
When it was invented: 1979
Why we loved it: EraserMate was made in the late '70s, and anyone who grew up in the '80s or '90s remembers how awesome these were. Or, rather, how awesome we wanted them to be.
The idea of a pen that could be erased seemed ingenious, but the execution was lacking. The pen's ink wasn't as dark as that of regular ballpoint pens, and the eraser function was spotty at best.
Still, erasable pens were popular for decades.
Today's Version of the Eraser Pen
Eraser pens aren't used much anymore because pens have largely been replaced with computers.
Even elementary schoolers are often given iPads or other tablets to use during the school year, and typing is taught earlier than ever. Back in the early 2000s, it wasn't taught until middle school.
Bluetooth keyboards can connect with almost any device, and they're small enough to take with you to coffee shops or wherever you prefer to study.
Learn more: iClever BK10 Bluetooth Keyboard, $32.99
7. Novelty Erasers
When it was invented: 1770
Why we loved it: It's hard to say when the first novelty eraser was invented, but the first eraser was made in the 1770s.
Rubber was actually named so by its inventor, Joseph Priestley, because it could be used to rub out pencil marks. Joseph Reckendorfer of New York City later patented the classic pencil and eraser design in 1858.
While little has changed about the pencil/eraser setup, small, gummy erasers rose to popularity during the '80s and '90s, becoming a collectible item among grade-schoolers.
Today's Version of Novelty Erasers
Those gummy erasers from your childhood have been replaced by puzzle erasers. Some brands are more effective at erasing than others, but puzzle erasers are more for collecting than erasing.
Each puzzle eraser can be taken apart and put back together, and they're honestly too cute to actually use.
Learn more: Greentime 32-Piece Animal Erasers, $10.99
6. Scratch 'N Sniff Stickers
When it was invented: 1965
Why we loved it: Scratch and sniff technology was invented in 1965 by 3M, and the creation has since been used on everything from stickers and children's books to CDs.
The Smurf stickers pictured here are from the 1980s, and they were just one of many popular scratch 'n sniff stickers. They were frequently used by teachers to reward students for good test scores or turning in their homework on time.
Today's Version of Scratch 'N Sniff Stickers
Scratch 'n sniff stickers are far from obsolete, although they're no longer quite the fad they used to be.
PipStickers makes tons of cool, scented stickers with Kawaii-themed designs and scents unlike any produced back in the '80s.
Learn more: PipStickers You're the Coolest Scratch 'N Sniff, $3.95
5. Trapper Keepers
When it was invented: 1978
Why we loved it: Some parents might remember the Trapper Keeper. It was invented in the late 1970s by E. Bryant Crutchfield, the then-director of new ventures at the Mead Corporation. When he first thought up the newly designed binder, he had no idea how wildly popular it would become.
The design was solid, with a snap or latch keeping papers from falling out or getting bent at the corners. Throughout the '80s and '90s, the Trapper Keeper was the most popular binder available because it was so much more colorful and fun than boring, white binders from decades past.
4. Pencil Boxes
When it was invented: 1880
Why we loved it: Wooden pencil boxes like the one pictured here were first invented in the late 1800s by Lothar von Faber, a German pencil manufacturer. This one happens to be from 1919, and it actually has a locking mechanism. Can you imagine having to unlock your pencil case just to do your homework?
Pencil cases, like most items back in the day, were more challenging and expensive to make, so they weren't the kind of thing you replaced every school year. Many of them were quite beautiful, with intricate designs and scenes decorating the lid.
Today's Version of the Pencil Box
Pencil boxes now come in tons of different shapes and sizes, but cloth pencil pouches are much more common than hard plastic or wood ones.
The one pictured here is especially trendy because it includes interactive bubbles to fiddle with. Fidget toys have become increasingly popular to help kids stay focused, and this one is a fidget toy and pencil pouch in one.
Learn more: Kalnur Fidget Sensory Pencil Case, $5.66
3. Metal Lunch Boxes
When it was invented: 1902
Why we loved it: The metal lunch boxes that we've all seen in old movies weren't originally intended for children. Kids began using empty cookie or cigar tins to replicate the metal lunch tins their fathers typically took to work.
Companies began marketing the first metal lunch boxes in 1902, many of which featured illustrations of children playing on the front.
Today's Version of the Metal Lunchbox
Instead of tin lunch boxes, most lunch boxes today are of the insulated cloth variety.
Bento boxes have also become popular in the past five or so years. They've been popular in Japan for decades, but now kids in the States are using them to pack healthy lunches in perfect portions, too.
Learn more: Bentology Lunch Bag and Box Set for Kids, $21.99
2. Book Bags
When it was invented: 1938
Why we loved it: Technically, the first backpack was invented in 1938 by Gerry Outdoors. At the time, backpacks were mostly used for outdoor recreation, like hiking and camping, rather than for school.
Some people used leather bookbags like the one pictured above. These more traditional bookbags made of canvas or leather were invented sometime between the 1930s and the 1960s. At the time, they were commonly called satchels, and they were usually secured with a single leather strap or two buckles. Many students, however, still carried their books by hand.
JanSport was invented for that very reason. Many students were still using makeshift book carrying devices in the 70s, so they invented an alternative that stuck.
Today's Version of the Book Bag
Old-fashioned book bags are out for so many reasons. While vintage designs are still popular, two-strap designs are more popular because they distribute weight more evenly than messenger bags.
Carrying heavy books is hard work, especially for growing students, so getting a backpack that's sturdy enough for an entire schoolyear of heavy lifting is essential.
JanSport is still one of the most popular backpack brands, boasting countless trendy patterns and colors to pick from.
Learn more: JanSport Superbreak, $35
1. Writing Slates
When it was invented: 14th century
Why we loved it: No one knows the exact date writing slates were invented, but they've been around for centuries. They were widely used throughout the 1700s and 1800s, made of a simple piece of slate framed by wood.
In the late 1950s, the slate chalkboard saw some of its first competition: the whiteboard. Whiteboards didn't fully takeover until the 1970s, but they were a major upgrade since they didn't require water to clean.
Today's Version of the Writing Slate
As fun as chalkboards and whiteboards are, paper is no longer an expensive, hard to come by commodity. Spiral notebooks and composition books are almost always included on school supply lists, and they come in every color and size imaginable.
While schools usually specify what size to buy, kids can get creative with what colors and designs they choose. Multisubject notebooks are also a popular option for high school students.
Learn more: Mead Spiral Notebook, 6 Pack, $13.97