Welcome the next installment of my year-long look back at the decade that was ruled by big hair and bigger egos. Every other week I’ll be covering pop culture tidbits from the 1980s, sharing memories, choking on the ridiculousness, and maybe offering an insight or two into what made the 1980s so great/bad/silly. Serving as my inspiration are two lists from Buzzfeed, and I’ll include links to the original list items in each post. So throw on your neon windbreaker, lace up your hi-tops, and adjust your Wayfarers, because this DeLorean is taking off! (Ugh. Did I really just type that? Gag me with spoon, seriously.)
List item #46 from 50 Things only ’80s Kids Can Understand
The joy of the first scratch on a brand new Scratch ‘n’ Sniff sticker.
My first sticker book, my only sticker book, was 50¢ spiral-bound jammy with the words “STICKERS” drawn ever so colorfully and creatively on the front cover (by yours truly). I’ve mentioned stickers several times in these here posts, so I don’t think the fact that I made my own sticker book would come as much of a shock. The phenomenon of sticker collecting as it pertained to the 1980s isn’t one that even I think I comprehended at the time, but I was obligated to participate in nonetheless.
Well…sticker collecting wasn’t exactly forced upon my grade school self, but it, as a hobby of sorts, was so ubiquitous among my classmates that, yeah, I collected stickers. And it’s hard to argue with Buzzfeed’s assertion concerning Scratch ‘n’ Sniff stickers. I mean, there were certainly lots of cool, unique, and wacky stickers out in the world, but for some reason, the smelly ones always turned out the be the most coveted. (Followed very closely, by puffy stickers and puffy stickers WITH googly eyes!)
So, Scratch ‘N’ Sniff stickers. You scratched, they smelled – simple mechanics. One of the things that made them special was their…um…transitory nature. As a keeper of said stickers, your goal was to make sure they remained both scratchable and sniffable. In other words, if you scratched your sticker to hard, not only would the smell disappear but the sticker would too. So proper sticker collectors (in the seven to ten age range, surely) knew that only the lightest touch could be used to make smells emanated from the little adherances. No finger nails edges, please! Just gently rub the back of your nail along the sticker and voila! Nasal pleasantries for all to enjoy!
While I don’t recall the exact arrangement of my own sticker book, I do remember that I had divided it into two sections: “Regular” and “Special.” “Regular” stickers were just that – flat stickers without any special features. Obviously, the “Special” section contained all the awesome stickers: sparkles, holograms, puffy, googly-eyed, textured, lenticular, and of course, Scratch ‘n’ Sniff. The Scratch ‘n’ Sniff portion was by far the largest because they were fairly easy to obtain.
And speaking of obtaining stickers, it bears mentioning that sticker trading was a thing too. I loved all my stickers much too much to ever part with them – the vast majority of them were gifts from friends and family for birthdays and holiday celebrations. Plus, vending machines! Forget the crappy, non-chewable spheres of bubble gum and shitty plastic, pokey jewelry! Whenever I went to the grocery store with my mom and obtained that special quarter to get something from the child-magnets at the front of the store, I always got stickers. Always. And once I got stickers, most any stickers, I’d immediately put them in my sticker book. Stuck there for all eternity. Sure, I drooled over some of my friend’s sticker books, but trading stickers was a pain. (Actually, I tried to trade stickers occasionally. If you ever want to teach a youngin’ patience and craft, ask them to take a stuck sticker off of a regular sheet of paper without damaging it. Then go watch a movie, because it’ll take awhile.)
Coming off that tangent, how bout them Scratch ‘N’ Sniffs? Really, there was nothing better than getting a new one because that’s about the only time they smelled perfect. Once they ended up in a sticker book, all bets were off as to how long it would take before your bubblegum Scratch ‘n’ Sniff smelled like chocolate, or grape soda, or oranges. But that first scratch…[sigh]…so delightful it was! Just imagine…you’re seven, eight years old and you scratch a little piece of paper with a piece of pizza on it, and lo and behold, it smells like pizza! I mean, how is that NOT perfectly enchanting? The next best thing would have been gum that tasted like dinner, but hey, we worked with and enjoyed the technology that we had. And the technology of Scratch ‘n’ Sniff stickers was like the best black magic a few cents could buy.
As I already said, Scratch ‘n’ Sniff stickers took up a good portion of my book. And some of the stickers retained their smells longer than others. I had one particular pack that contained a strange assortment of odors, including three of my longest-lasting Scratch ‘n’ Sniffs: popcorn, pickles, and root beer. Maybe that’s a Sunday meal for some, but I loved those three stickers. I can still see the popcorn one, all yellow with a brightly smiling popped corn kernel on it – it reliably smelled like a fresh box of popcorn with each and every scratch. The pickle one, while a strange smell, was always perfectly sour – like the smell of that barrel of pickles at your grocery store’s deli. And root beer…oh root beer. Like a freshly-poured mug of the liquid cold, chilled to perfection.*
*Possible exaggerations, though the popcorn sticker really did smell like buttery goodness.
My sticker-mania abruptly ended when I entered middle school. Gone were my sticker-collecting and -trading buddies as we transformed into little “adults” that had to dissect frogs and learn about integers. Stickers became secondary to all things. But I still kept my sticker book. I kept it for a very long time in fact. And when it became far too ratty to salvage – I finally discarded it near the end of high school – I still collected stickers, just not has frequently or obsessively. The last vestiges of this once-regular habit can be found in some of my books where I used stickers as “bookplates.”
I don’t know that general sticker collecting is as thoroughly “1980s” as some might make it out to be. (Just look at the scrapbooking industry – fancy sticker-collecting a lot of that is.) But perhaps sticker collecting as children’s hobby is. I’m thinking that today’s youth would look upon it as systematically lame. But I bet if they smelled my gloriously perfect popcorn Scratch ‘n’ Sniff sticker, they might think twice.