Mail Order Memories

One of my favorite scenes in A Christmas Story is when Ralphie finally receives his mail order “Little Orphan Annie” decoder pin. Later that night, he listens to his favorite radio show and transcribes the numbers as announcer “Pierre” reads them off.

I used to think it was strange that Ralphie went right into the bathroom with his decoding. He shared a room with his younger brother, so I guess that’s why the bathroom was the only place Ralphie felt he could have privacy. I do have a sibling, but being of opposite genders, my brother and I each had our own separate spaces. 

After some intense music and close up shots of Ralphie’s eyes and fingers as he frantically turns his decoder pin, he finds out the “secret message” is just an advertisement for the show’s sponsor: Ovaltine. 

Even into the 1980s and 1990s, there were mail order promotions for products. Here are my memories of some of this merchandise. 

1. Picture Pages and Mortimer Ichabod Marker 

During Captain Kangaroo and later Pinwheel, Bill Cosby hosted a segment where he walked kids through what were essentially workbook pages with the help of his friend, Mortimer Ichabod Marker. 

Picture Pages had a catchy jingle too. We wanted to do those workbook pages so badly, we begged our parents to subscribe to get them sent to us. My mom recently told me that the pages they sent didn’t always sync up with the pages Cosby was doing in the televised segments. 

In addition to the workbook pages, there was also a Mortimer Ichabod “Marker” our parents could order for us. I put marker in quotation marks because what the Picture Pages people sent couldn’t really be called a marker. 

It was basically an empty white baton with an illustration of Mortimer on it. What kind of creature was Mortimer supposed to have been? I always thought he looked like a wingless bee. To have Mortimer make his trademark beeping sounds you had to press the crayon tip all the way down on your paper. Meanwhile, the Cos was using an actual marker which moved smoothly over his glass screen. 

Remember what happened when you pressed down on a crayon with too much force? We lost so many crayons to our Mortimers. 

2. Quik Bunny Mugs 

We were Quik drinkers as kids and so were our aunt and uncle. When my grandparents moved, they gave my mom the Quik mugs they ordered for my aunt and uncle. These mugs were especially great for hot chocolate because there were ear handles on both sides to give our small hands extra stability. The Quik Bunny is still one of my favorite product mascots.

We did also use “Messy Marvin’s” Hershey’s syrup, but that was more of an ice cream topping. Once we were in our early teens, we decided to graduate from the powdered mix to the syrup. For some reason, we realized the powder didn’t mix well. It was fine for ten years, but then one day we noticed it was “lumpy”. 

3. Serpentor 

Ever since I was little, I’ve been afraid of snakes. I accidentally tore a page in my children’s dictionary because I was afraid of the snake picture in it. I don’t think it was even a picture of a poisonous snake, but I was still scared of it. 

My brother had a bunch of G.I. Joes. I know he had Dusty, Zartan, and Serpentor. He must have had more. He had some vehicles too, but I’m not sure which ones they were. I remember him using Serpentor as an all purpose villain, tormenting almost every other character we had. 

Serpentor came with a cape made out of a strangely familiar sparkly green fabric. I had a Barbie jumpsuit where the pants part was the same shade of green and had the same metallic quality as Serpentor’s cape. I found this interesting given they were from two different toy lines. 

4. Little Debbie Barbie 

I will say it was not exactly a sacrifice to have to eat the snack cakes required to send in the proofs of purchase for this mail order doll. My favorite Little Debbie snacks were Oatmeal Creme Pies, Fudge Rounds, Star Crunch, and Nutty Bars. 

While I was working at Kmart, I got into collecting Barbies as well as other dolls. I started with Holiday Barbie 1996 because she was dressed in my high school’s colors. Over the years, there were some dolls that appealed to me because of their dresses, themes, or ties to other intellectual properties. 

In 1995, I saw an ad on the back of my box of Oatmeal Creme Pies for a Barbie dressed like Little Debbie. She came in a cute light blue checkered box with a straw bonnet and wearing a white blouse and blue gingham skirt. Her brown hair is styled in soft waves with a blue ribbon to tie it back.

What other mail order products and merchandise do you remember sending away for?

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About Karen Flieger 38 Articles
I was born in the late 1970’s, spent my childhood in the 1980’s, and my pre-teen and teen years in the 1990’s. I graduated from Kennesaw State University in 2001 with a B.A. in English. I collect various forms of media (books, music, movies, and television shows) as well as plush toys, dolls, and Funko figures.