Sunday, January 29, 2006

Trapper Keeper: Mead's Answer to the Swiss Army Knife

Admit it: There was always a tiny spec of excitement you used to feel when heading out that day to buy your fresh, new school supplies every September. Sure, the feelings of dread, impending humiliation, exclusion and forced conformity took center stage when labor day rolled around, but a quick trip to Woolworth's or K-Mart would ease that pain for a moment. Of course, most of what you'd buy would become instantly obsolote: Multi-colored ball point pens, laminated college-themed book covers and that uber-geek pencil holder you'd never use. Amidst all those pencil-top erasers, translucent rulers and paint pens, the one central anchor of every school supply shopping list was the notebook and/or binder.

Enter the Mead Trapper Keeper. In the early 80's, the Trapper Keeper was the Rolls Royce of binders. Forget that spiral bound crap, or that cro-magnon denim-coated notebook, the Trapper was state of the art: A large, vinyl/plastic holder that folded open to reveal several pockets, a clipboard/penholder, several colorful folders (named "portfolios"), and a revolutionary "slider" style plastic 3-hole binding system to hold everythhing together. And what's more, when you needed to head to your next class, the whole unit folded over and sealed up securely via the adhesive choice of the decade: Velcro.

Talk about versatility and convenience! When this thing exploded on the scene back in the 80's, it was truly something to behold. Think of how you could use the pockets! Not to mention how each folder could be color coded to each subject! And what about that clipboard thing? You could put your note paper there, or keep it in that ultra-cool sliding binder system. Plus, you'd never lose your pens, since it would stay securely at the top of the clipboard!

And what about personalization? The Trapper Keeper used to come in a variety of styles and colors. In some cases, you could even get "themes" like sports or landscapes. And if you didn't like the pre-designed ideas, you could always simply use a pen-knife to open the pastic coverings to slide in your own photos and/or art to give your new notebook that personal touch! Honestly, the Trapper Keeper was by far the most exciting development in school supplies since white-out.

But all that excitement would soon turn to sadness. By the winter, each of the selling points of the Trapper Keeper would become liabilities: The pockets would become overstuffed and virtually unsuable. That nifty clipboard would lose its tension, and most of your notes would be housed in the binder area. The penholder would stop holding pens, and you'd be forced to use the pockets to hold pens (causing further damage). And that revolutionary "slider" binder? It would fall apart and become more of an annoyance than a godsend. To make matters worse, that velcro closure would be reduced to a patch of fuzz, making the whole system capable of "trapping" absolutely nothing.

By Christmas, the Trapper Keeper was all but useless. In the hands of any normal student, all of its bells and whistles were quickly muted, and its shortcomings become painfully evident: Not secure, easily broken, too small, and just plain stupid, Mead's answer to the Swiss Army knife seemed more like a toenail clipper. True, there were many Trapper Keeper faithfuls who would simply buy another, fresher unit to replace their fallen sidekick, but the more intelligent students realized quickly that this "new toy" was a big mistake. To quote The Who: "We Won't Get Fooled Again"--next year, the Trapper keeper would be avoided.

Mead kept making the Trapper Keeper for several years, improving it and attempting to rectify many of the issues that made it rather unusable. In the 90's, the Trapper Keeper became a luxury SUV in a time when students would have rather had a Honda Civic, and by the latter portion of that decade, the Trapper Keeper of old had dissappeared from store shelves. True, education was becoming more and more paperless, but the design of the Trapper Keeper alone kept it from overtaking the old standby notebooks year after year.

In the end, Mead's velcro-equipped beast became nothing more than a memory. A memory of a time when pencil holders, flourescent rulers and colorful sharpeners took the edge off of the single worst time of the year for any child: back to school. And for that, I guess we owe the Trapper Keeper a little bit of a thank you.


Stewie said...

Trapper Keepers rocked.

I had a red one that I cut with the pen knife to slide pictures of Vixen and Lita Ford from Circus magazine (was it Circus?)

Great blog.

millionblogger said...
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Puertorock said...

I loved my trapper keeper, but never really wanted to ruin the essence of it by using a pen-knife, but you get older and ther trapper becomes a schedule book, LOL

Chad Oneil said...

Found your blog by searching for "Trapper Keeper" on Google. I was trying to show someone what they were all about.

I know I liked mine.

Joe said...

Did you know that Mead just redesigned the Trapper Keeper?

They have a cool flash 3D of it at

REGALRED86 said...

How funny.I just stumbled on to this blog.Thanks for the memorries.You are spot on with regards to the TRAPPER KEEPER.I bet I still have one in storage at mom and dad's.

archangele said...

Trapper Keeper was the Rolls Royce of binders

And Parker was the Porche of pens.

BMiller said...

I wanted the trapper keeper so badly but it was "too expensive." All the rich, cool kids had them - plus those groundbreaking erasable-ink pens, but alas I had to be satisfied with the 10-cent "Pee Chee" portfolios. Lame.