Play Stuff Blog

The Strong’s historians, curators, librarians, and other staff offer insights into and anecdotes about the critical role of play in human development and the ways in which toys, dolls, games, and video games reflect cultural history.

A Sticker-y Situation

Ms. Pac-Man Stickers, 1985, The Strong, Rochester, New York. Like many of us, I can fondly recall receiving the occasional sticker on a test or assignment as a young student. The excitement of seeing a shiny gold star or other shape firmly affixed to the top of a sheet of paper never seemed to get old. Occasionally, one of my teachers might have extra fanciful stickers, such as the slightly foamy variety, that depict anthropomorphic figures, some even with googly eyes that would roll— easily my favorite. Not only were the stickers positive reinforcement for a job well done, they were entertaining!

Beyond the periodic teacher-issued sticker, I never got into stickers that much,  at least not like my friends who collected them. I suppose I was unsure what to do with all those stickers once they had been procured from parades or the dentist’s office, or even the 25-cent vending machines at our local Grand Union grocery store. Do I actually stick them to something or save them? How and where does one effectively save stickers? If I were to stick them on something, what should I choose? Stickers are, after all, kind of a one-shot deal and what if I picked the wrong thing?! With too many questions and zero answers, I decided stickers simply were not for me. Bookmarks or funny 3-D erasers, they were fun and functional with far less pressure. As an adult, I’d watch my toddler niece enthusiastically gather stickers whenever and wherever she could and then immediately adhere them to her clothes, her face, her sunglasses,  even her shoes, all without a care in the world. I found myself worrying that she might later regret having been so carefree, so full of gusto. She was three. I was 30. That was when I realized that maybe—just maybe!—I should ease up on my sticker concerns.

Hoffman’s Skateland, Albany NY, about 1960. The Strong, Rochester, New York. In high school, a friend told me her dad had saved the Dole stickers off his lunch banana every day for 20-plus years and firmly adhered them inside his metal lunch box. The result was a mesmerizing collage of hundreds of tiny, identical stickers that seemed to take on a life of their own. The notion that a seemingly gruff, gray-haired contractor had a soft spot for stickers still delights me.

Produce stickers aside, there seems to be a renewed interest in stickers these days, and more so among adults. We see them adhered to cars, laptops, cell phones, and every other surface imaginable, acting as tiny windows into the lives of others, revealing interests, hobbies, senses of humor, and more. Love podcasts? There’s a sticker for that. Completed a marathon or half marathon? There’s a sticker for that too. Hate running and never completed a lengthy run? There’s even sticker for  that! (It reads “0.0, I don’t run.”) Travel, movies, animals, colleges, cities, states. The list goes on and on. Election years always seem to generate an abundance of stickers, and this year was no exception.

Be The Vote, sticker, 2020. and AmplifierArt. Photo courtesy of the author.

Think you might be in the market for a great sticker or two? Thanks to online sites like Tee Public, Red Bubble, Etsy, and many others you can browse from the comfort of your own home and support the artists around the globe who create them. 

During this most unusual year, my husband and I have unintentionally found ourselves browsing and buying stickers, as a sort of  inexpensive pandemic hobby during all those hours at home. As a result, I can now say not only do I understand the appeal of collecting stickers, but I consider myself a proud enthusiast and avid collector. In just a few months, we’ve managed to build a great little collection. Now if only we could decide on where to put them.


Even More Stories from the Toy Hall of Fame

Get out your library cards and alert your book club! With three new inductees to the National Toy Hall of Fame in November, it’s time for another edition of Toy Stories: Tales of the Games and Toys We Love. Last year, I recommended books about five Toy Hall of Fame Inductees and their inventors. This year, dive into four more “old-timers” and one new inductee with this fresh reading list!

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Play and Language: A Reciprocal Relationship

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2019 Class of the World Video Game Hall of Fame

Every year The Strong welcomes new inductees into the World Video Game Hall of Fame, and this year the inductees are Colossal Cave Adventure, Microsoft Windows Solitaire, Mortal Kombat, and Super Mario Kart. It’s a fabulous class, one that well embodies the criteria for selection of icon-status, longevity, geographical reach, and influence.

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Kitty Black Perkins: The African American Designer behind the First Black Barbie

Born in racially segregated South Carolina in 1948, Louvenia (Kitty) Black Perkins grew up playing with white dolls gifted by her mother’s employers. In the 1960s, Black Perkins attended an all-black school, Carver High School, where she excelled in art. Upon graduation, she received the gift of a trip to visit her aunt and uncle in California. There Black Perkins put her name on a wait list for commercial art classes at Los Angeles Trade Technical College and, in the meantime, took a fashion design course.

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Transatlantic Play

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Pinball History in the Archives

Being on the Collections team at The Strong museum means that there’s never a dull moment. We are continually receiving boxes and boxes (and sometimes pallets) of toy, game, doll, and electronic game-related objects, as well as related ephemera and papers. A unique artifact being cataloged will catch the eye of a colleague, and a discussion of its significance (or a fond trip down memory lane) will ensue. Occasionally, a large collection may take quite some time to fully catalog on the museum side or process in the archives.

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The Quintuplets Story: From Baby Girls to Baby Dolls

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Rethinking the Kitchen in Girls’ Play

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The Rolls-Royce of Jigsaw Puzzles

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Curmudgeonly Charm

Some time ago, I worked at a bookstore. My days were filled with hauling stacks of books, shelving books, looking up titles, and endlessly restocking whatever Oprah’s latest recommendation was. My coworkers were witty and humorous, and on slow days we’d chat while shelving or alphabetizing books. It was during one of these conversations that I first heard the term curmudgeon, as a coworker deemed herself “Captain Curmudgeon” which made me chuckle, but also think.

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