In the 70s, there was hardly a store that didn’t have a proud display of Wacky Packages right next to the cash register. Sold in the same packaging as baseball cards (which was no surprise since a company named Topps created them), they were literally irresistible to darn near every little kid with a few extra cents in his or her pocket. And the appeal was very simple – wonderfully demented versions of product art that every kid knew from the grocery story aisles. They were funny, they were completely politically incorrect, and much to the horror of every parent, they were backed with an adhesive – meaning that not only could they be affixed to school folders and lunch boxes, but also every square inch of wall, door or furniture within their path.
The first versions of Wacky Packages were called Die-Cuts and Wacky Ads. Introduced in 1967, they were simply a series of cards, much like their baseball player-adorned cousins, that were randomly packaged. Each card was held in a cardboard frame by perforations and when punched out, contained a sticky back that could be applied to any flat surface. It was quite the chore, however, to remove the cards from their cardboard frame without damaging them and kids eventually grew tired of trying. It was back to the old drawing board for Topps.
Six years later, the trading card company decided to give it another whirl, renaming the product Wacky Packages and hiring legendary artist, Jay Lynch (who had made his name drawing Bazooka Joe cartoons) to design the images. Lynch drew upon the cartoons of The New Yorker and more evidently, Mad Magazine to create a series of product parodies that poked fun at familiar product art. Wheaties were transformed in to Weakies, Lipton became Liptorn, Band-Aid became Band-Ache. Crest toothpaste, Miss Clairol, Ragu, Scope – no product was safe from the witty jabs of Wacky Packages. And this didn’t exactly delight the original product’s manufacturers either. When Tetley Tea Bags got wind of Petley Flea Bags, they didn’t laugh – they sued, claiming irreparable damage to their good name. The lawsuit was thrown out of court.
Each set of Wacky packages could also double as a puzzle, since each package also contained non-adhesive puzzle pieces that had a handy checklist on the back to show you which pieces you still needed to acquire. Of course, you had to complete the entire set to finish the puzzle and that meant buying a heck of a lot of Wacky Packages – funny how that worked, isn’t it? Finally, in 1979, Topps showed a bit of mercy when they issued the reprint series and made the puzzle collecting much easier.
After literally millions of Wacky Packages were sold, their popularity began to ebb in the early 80s. Numerous attempts were made to revive the cards between 1985 and 1991 but it simply wasn’t the same. Kids would soon turn their attention to the allure of Garbage Pail Kids. But those 16 original series of Wacky Packages released between 1973 and 1976 remain highly sought after by collectors, who continue to trade them to this day.
And for anyone lucky enough to live during the WPE (Wacky Package Era), it is impossible to look at just a couple of cards. Waves of nostalgia quickly wash over these adult-sized kids as they smile lovingly at the images of Choke Wagon, Koduck Film, Fright Guard and Fish-Bone Dressing. It’s a trip down memory lane, certain to bring a tear to one’s eye or at least a grin to the face. And somewhere in the attics of America, behind closet doors, or plastered on an old dresser, there are probably a few lingering stickers. And chances are, the placement of each one was followed by a stern lecture at one time – about why it is bad to attach stickers to furniture and other household items. Ah, but to be a kid again.
If you were a loyal collector of Wacky Packages, we welcome your memories in our comments section. Were you a responsible owner or did you plaster your room with them? Do you still have a particular favorite? Share all of this and more as we remember this wonderful collection of pop art from the 70s.