Friday, May 22, 2009
Easter 1975. I was five years old and I woke up in the pre-dawn hours jubilant that the Easter Bunny had (hopefully) visited and left me some candy during my slumber. I checked the rather large carrot I had left next to my bedside and sure enough there was a healthy bite taken out of it and next to the half-eaten vegetable was a ‘clue’, which was the first in a series of clues that would eventually lead me to a cornucopia of chocolate and other assorted delights. Over the years the ‘clues’ would become increasingly challenging, occasionally leading to a dead end, or worse, to a bogus treat left by the “Evil Easter bunny”. However, in 1975 the clues were rather simple and enhanced with crude drawings to ensure that I would reach my destination. After a few minutes of reasonable clues I stumbled across my basket. Sure it was filled with a bevy of sugary treats, but my attention was quickly drawn towards something even more exciting, a large wrapped package. With my autonomic nervous system quickly dumping adrenaline I tore at the wrapping paper like a lion tearing at the flesh of a fallen gazelle. With the wrapping paper quickly dispensed my pupils rapidly dilated in order to let more light in to fully appreciate my Easter bunny gift, a Big Jim Sports Camper! What made this extra exciting for 5 year old me was that this was not even something I had asked for, in fact I most likely didn’t even know it even existed!
No, that's not me, but it's almost a perfect representation of the moment (and decor)
Big Jim was a Canadian toy line that ran from 1972-1986 and was the Canadian answer to the popular G.I. Joe line in the United States. Rather than focus on the military, the Big Jim series emphasized adventure (like camping) and Mattel created a slew of Big Jim accessories and eventually some foes. Although crude by today’s standards, the Big Jim Camper offered many thrills for a 5-year old in 1975 and it was loaded with trimmings including sleeping bags, cooking equipment, and a ‘fire’ with grill among other things.
Just look at all the stuff I come with!
We moved to the United States later that year and like so many things from my early childhood, my Big Jim camper didn’t make it. No doubt my mother, a notorious thrower-awayer, discarded my beautiful camper to make room for stupid things, like clothing. Over the past 4 decades I have attempted to collect all those things from childhood that meant so much to me and the Big Jim camper has always remained elusive. I came close last year when I found an extremely weathered camper at the Toy Vault in the Rhode Island Mall, however it did not have any accessories and it was in such a state of disrepair that I walked away from it, crestfallen. For whatever reason it never occurred to me to check on Ebay, however as it turns out it wouldn’t be necessary.
The Brimfield Antique Show is the largest outdoor flea market in New England, and possibly in the United States. It’s situated in Brimfiled, MA and there are 7 day shows 3 times a year. I have been attending this show for the past 4 years and it’s a real treat for any collector. Filled with organized and random collectibles, you never know what you’ll find, which makes it all the more exciting. I attended the most recent Brimfield show a week ago and after walking around for 7 hours I still hadn’t seen everything (it’s just that big). However during my travels I had one of those rare collector moments, you know what I’m talking about, that moment when you see something you have been looking for forever. It’s difficult to describe if you haven’t experienced it, but for a collector it’s equivalent to finding the Holy Grail. With a sharp intake of breath I stared at a vendor’s small, unassuming tent. Sitting outside the tent next to some random junk was my beloved camper, in its original box no less!
I love the vintage artwork
Even before taking a step I already knew that I was buying it. As I walk/skipped towards it, with the paranoia of a collector who suddenly believes that every single person within the vicinity was also after my treasure, I felt a wave of nostalgia flow over me. I have a terrible memory for most things (hell, I still pronounce my secretary’s name incorrectly) but I’ve never forgotten the thrill of Easter 1975. As I picked up the box to look at the price tag it said “$75”. I knew it was a lot, but I was prepared to pay it. As a any collector will tell you, don’t pass up those difficult-to-find items. While preparing to fork over the dough, the vendor, a kindly old man, said, “I’m asking $75 but I’ll give it to you for $20 because the boat is missing”! I could hardly believe what I had heard. Only twenty bucks? I could live with the missing boat (and I’m sure I’ll eventually acquire it on Ebay), besides, the camper itself was in mint condition with the rest of the accessories plus two sets of instructions! Okay, obviously I’m indulging only myself with this overly long post, but it’s for experiences like this that we collect. My Big Jim Camper, nestled with pride on my bookshelf currently, is one more lost treasure that I can check off my list of lost toys. Now if I can just find a Micronaut Mobile Exploration Lab…