They were hidden in the right-hand desk drawers of most second grade teachers, who used them to decorate the finest penmanship papers.
And then, man created Scratch ‘n Sniff stickers, and puffy stickers, and then, Scratch ‘n Sniff puffy stickers and Smurf stickers, puffy Smurf stickers, Garfield stickers, and lazy Garfield stickers.
And then, without knowing it, man created stickermania. And to any 6 to 16-year-old, it was good. In fact, to 8-year-old Megan Sharpless and thousands of other youngsters in Madison and across the country, it’s great.
Megan, daughter of John and Judy Sharpless of Madison, collects stickers; she has amassed about 1,100 of them. Megan has album upon album full of Scratch ‘n Sniffs, Smurfs, and puffy stickers. And, she is definitely not alone.
What started out as simple rewards for ‘A’ papers has grown into a million-dollar business for many of the country’s stationery and novelty manufacturers. Collectors stick them in photo albums, on envelopes, on specially made mirror boxes, on brightly colored bags, on just about anything stickable.
They have become even hotter in the sub rosa markets of grade and middle schools than baseball cards in their heyday.
A quick stop into any of downtown Madison’s gift shops will show the magnitude of the latest collectors’ craze: “USA official member rat race team” stickers, “I love you more than chocolate itself” stickers, Scratch ‘n Sniff pizza stickers. They- ‘re all there, on rolls stacked next to a pair of scissors for easy snipping. The sticker fad has become so popular that Orange Tree Imports has started its own sticker collectors’ club. People must verify that they are hard-core collectors by bringing in their collections — some include as many as 2,500 stickers — before they can sign their name to the collectors’ board.
But collectors’ club or not, employees say the stickers’ price range, from 5 cents to 45 cents, keeps the customers coming.
“It’s just nickels and dimes all day long,” said Mark Terry of Orange Tree. Or sometimes, he added, “they just come in with a ‘five’ and spend every single cent of it.”
But this fad is not all silly kids’ stuff, by any means.
Adults get hooked
“The adults are just as bad,” said Terry. “I had one woman come in and spend $45 on stickers.”
The fad has been a boon to companies such as Mrs. Grossman’s, Illuminations, Internatural Designs, and the makers of Microfragrance Scratch ‘n Sniffs, 3M.
Mrs Grossman’s of San Rafael, Calif., one of the first and most popular designers in the sticker market, generates over $1 million annually in sticker sales alone.
According to Andrea Grossman, company owner, it’s not just the variety of designs that has made stickers more popular, but the way they are sold. The craze really started, she said, after her company put stickers on a roll so that they can be sold individually at nickel and dime prices, rather than in a package.
Stickers have been around a long time, she said. They were particularly popular around the turn of the century, but were called “scrap.” At that time, girls traded entire albums full of stickers; giving stickers was a symbol of friendship.
But stickers today have developed from the “sweet, artsy” designs, continued Mrs. Grossman. After introducing 10 designs in 1979, Mrs. Grossman’s sticker sales tripled in one year. The company now has 89 different designs, and by the end of this year, will have more than 100.
3M’s Scratch ‘n Sniffs have become so popular that flavor selections have been expanded to include popcorn, gasoline, alcoholic beverages, pizza, cheese, leather, “season’s greetings,” and “the great outdoors.”
The United States isn’t the only country caught up in the sticker fad. Mrs. Grossman’s sells to 13 countries, with sales especially strong in Japan, Great Britain, Switzerland, and South Africa.
In the United States, the West Coast still claims a great share of the sticker market, though Mrs. Grossman said Wisconsin is one of the best states for her business.
For skeptics, who are baffled by what can actually be done with stickers, collectors have a multitude of answers, from sticking them on envelopes, boxes, and bags, to creating sticker art, to saving them in photo albums for future generations.
This fall, there will even be a new sticker idea book and an album made just for sticker collections. That’s good news to people like Megan Sharpless, who’ve had to save their stickers in ordinary photo albums. Those albums not only crush their puffy stickers, but don’t seem as fitting for preserving cherished stickers for future generations.
Megan says that her kids will probably benefit from her collecting some day, but she’s in no hurry to give up her treasures.
“I’ll give them the ones I don’t really love,” she said.
[2017 Correction: Changed “Goodman” (from original article) to the correct name, Grossman.]