Trapper Keeper, the Sophisticated School Supply


By Shawn Robare

About a month ago my buddy Philip Reed over at BattleGrip.com send me a link to a vintage newspaper article about the introduction of Mead’s Trapper Keeper notebook system that was originally published in the Reading Eagle in December of 1982.

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I love getting pointed to or stumbling across articles like this that address cool, yet let’s be honest, rather mundane aspects of what it was like to be a kid in the 80s.  I mean I can just imagine what it was like in a household around the end of summer where a kid had been badgering their parents to get them that new orange Trapper Keeper with the badass Lamborghini  and sunglasses on it because they absolutely had to have it to do well in the coming school year.  At first the parents are balking at the idea, I mean the last thing that want to do is to shill out another $5 for an expansive notebook when they know for a fact that their kid lost three of those expansive newfangled mechanical pencils the year prior, and will probably go through three more this year.  But then after skimming through the paper one morning the father saw this piece about Mead’s new notebook system and they realized, hey, maybe there’s something too this…

Trapper Keeper - Reading Eagle - Dec - 12 - 1982

Granted, this short article by J. Earl Ruthardt is basically a glorified advertisement for Mead and it’s products, there are some fun bits in information in there for the 80s nostalgia enthusiast.  I mean, I assumed that the Trapper Keeper evolved from other Mead notebooks, but it was cool to learn that preceding the Trapper Keeper were two other products, The Mead Organizer and the Mead Data-Center (the latter of which sounds badass, though I’m sure it’s just a three ring binder with folders that fit inside.)  It was also neat to discover that the revolutionary design of the Trapper Keeper was crowd-sourced from surveys with kids all over the country where Mead could get an idea of the notebook woes students had to deal with on a daily basis.

I also think it’s interesting that the design alone was the biggest selling point initially since the graphic design of the folders back in 1982 was still the standard one-color outer folder with no embellishments for crazy 80s era imagery.  So if these were so popular that they were flying off shelves and selling out at stores across the country in 1982, I have to imagine that when they started slapping on airbrushed dolphins, photos of bounding kittens and the aforementioned Lamborghinis sales must have at least doubled.  20 million dollars in sales for a single type of school supply.  I think that means that at least 1 in every 4 kids in the country must have owned at least one in 1982.  Pretty crazy stuff.

And since I love showing off my vintage Trapper Keeper, here it is again…

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  • God that is a beautiful thing. The the hope of finding a stray Trapper Keeper is the only reason I continue to walk down the weird aisle with notebooks, stationery, photo albums and other ephemera when I go to Goodwill.

  • Trapper Keepers: the only thing I ever liked about elementary school.

    • Totally. That and trading figural erasers and Garbage Pail Kids with my friends…

  • Ryan Prinkey

    I got my first Trapper Keeper in first grade. I think it had a picture of a horse or something on the front. I continued to get a trapper keeper every year for school until I graduated in 94. In fact, in high school I used 2 trapper keepers–one for morning classes and one for afternoon classes. My college schedule didn’t seem to lend itself to the Trapper so I finally and regretfully gave it up.

    • I went through a weird period in late middle school through high school where I tried to have little to no school supplies besides a thin folder of paper and whatever book I needed for a particular class so I stopped asking for then during the start of the school year. I kind of regret that now as I’d probably have a couple more vintage ones in my collection now :p

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  • That TK is still sexy. Bring it to work! I wish I still had mine…

    • If I had a need for it at work I totally would. Right now it holds all my notes for Branded… :p

  • Grace C.

    OMG, I had the same Trapper Keeper too! Forgot all about it til now. Thanks for the memories!!

  • bigbills19

    aaahhhh. Memories. There was a kid we called TK because he smelled like a new trapper keeper. I still see him from time to time and the nickname stuck.