12 totally trendy 80s Trapper Keeper notebooks & binders

10 Trapper Keeper notebooks from the eighties

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What did kids in the ’80s (and into the ’90s) consider indispensable for their school day — along with things like  Erasable Pens, scented markers, those cool triangle-shaped plastic paperclips, Walkmans and Lip Smackers? 

They wanted their Trapper Keepers — a super popular handy-dandy portfolio with folders that held on to papers better than your average binder. Pretty much every schoolkid had to have one.

But it wasn’t just a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fad — the Trapper Keepers stayed popular for decades, and, in fact, there’s a version that’s still made today.

Part of the charm of the product was that Mead made them in a variety of colors and designs, meaning that teens (and pre-teens) could express a little of their own personal style.

Parents foot the bill for them because they were super-handy, and helped to organize the masses of school paperwork — like reports carefully written in cursive on ruled binder paper, and lots of dittoed worksheets and pop quizzes.

Here, take a look back at these twelve, like, totally trendy ’80s & ’90s Trappers, and see which ones you remember!

Go totally retro with 10 Trapper Keeper notebooks from the 80s

A fashionable return to class

Schools that open Tuesday won’t see little Johnny and Susie bouncing to class with blue canvas notebooks, filler paper and a couple of wirebound notebooks under their arms.

It’s 1986. Justin and Jessica are stepping out — Trapper Keepers in tow.

Today’s student doesn’t want to be bogged down. Organized, compact and practical are the qualities the discerning look for in school supplies. Mead Products’ Trapper Keeper features three Trapper portfolios, a special notebook pocket, pinchless notebook rings, a 36-sheet notepad and a pencil clip, all encased in a shiny plastic binder equipped with a Velcro closure.

It’s the school supply industry’s biggest-selling binder, said Paul McClain, marketing services manager for Mead Products, the nation’s largest school supply manufacturer.

MORE: Do you remember these 30 shampoos & conditioners from the ’80s?

Vintage Trapper Keeper portfolio binder Lisa Frank clown

ALSO SEE: Vintage Lisa Frank: Transforming technicolor whimsy into a fun neon reality (1980s & 1990s)

School trendsetters

Trapper Keepers and Data Centers, another Mead Product design, were in style at Williston Central School last year, said Ram Gottfried, 9, who will be in the fourth grade this fall. Trends this year will best be gauged when classes start and the trendsetters arrive with their selections, he said.

Picking the right school supplies is clearly important. “See, there are different styles for girls and boys,” Ram said. Rainbows, unicorns, hearts and scratch-and-sniff Critter Sitters are acceptable for girls, they explained. But only the “nerdy” boys would use them.

“If you do, everybody makes fun of you,” added Ben Williams, 8, who attends Edmunds Elementary School in Burlington.

Care Bears, Critter Sitters and Garfield are still making appearances on Mead folders, but the licensed graphics’ popularity is waning, McClain said.

Vintage Trapper Keeper - 80s kittens

“Super Shades,” polka dots in muted blues, purple and sea green are new from Mead this fall. Denoted by the pelican-in-a-diamond symbol, “Super Shades” color portfolios, wirebound notebooks and “all-in-ones.”

Yellow paper, long promoted as easy on the eyes, is making its debut in the company’s “Glare Care” line.

Six people work full time in Dayton, Ohio, developing products for Mead. They talk to New York fashion magazine editors, watch MTV, check the book bestseller lists and bounce their ideas around in real classrooms.

Getting a handle on trends a year and a half early is their mission. 

“This is a competitive business,” McClain said. “To an extent, we’ve used school supplies much the same way as fashion looks at accessories (They are) low-cost, low-risk items that can be changed drastically as new trends develop.”

Go retro with these 10 Trapper Keeper binders from the eighties!

1. Vintage Trapper Keeper binder – Cute puppies

Trapper Keeper - puppies

MORE: See the vintage Magic Slate paper saver toys that almost every kid used to have – with characters like Donald Duck, The Incredible Hulk, Tom & Jerry and more

2. Vintage Trapper Keeper portfolio binder: Purple with palm trees at sunset

Vintage Trapper Keeper portfolio binders (3)


3. Trapper Keepers in blue with rainbow

Vintage Trapper Keeper notebook with rainbow

4. Trapper keeper binder: Tiger

Trapper keeper binder with tiger

5. Vintage Trapper Keeper portfolio – Kittens

Vintage Trapper Keeper portfolio binder - Kittens

ALSO SEE: How the Weepuls were won (1986)

6. Vintage Trapper Keeper binder – Horse running

Trapper keeper - green with horse

7. Vintage Trapper Keepers – Hot air balloons

Trapper Keeper - hot air balloon

ALSO SEE: Lip Smackers from Bonne Bell: The super trendy vintage lip balm from the ’70s & ’80s

8. Vintage Trapper Keeper binder – Floating heart balloons

Vintage Trapper Keeper portfolio floating hearts

9. Vintage Trapper Keepers – baseball (1986)

Vintage Trapper Keeper binder - baseball

10. Vintage Trapper Keeper binder – Expert roller skater

Trapper Keeper binder - Roller skating

MORE: See modern-day versions of Trapper Keepers here!

Trapper Keepers: Ads & school supply sales

Mead Trapper Keeper binders and portfolios were not hard to find! They were sold at drugstores and supermarkets as well as big-box stores like KMart, Target and Walmart. Ads for these school supplies were especially common in August and September of each year — just in time for back-to-school. Publication dates for the Trapper newspaper ads below, clockwise from upper left: 1980, 1979, 1982, 1986, 1986, 1983, 1984

Vintage trapper newspaper ads

MORE: Vintage Toys R Us catalog of Christmas gifts: ’80s Out of this World Toy Book (1986)

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Comments on this story

5 Responses

  1. I would still use these today! Totally nostalgic. But also I prefer the plastic and velcro over what they make today. Seems like many things make a come back. Do you suppose they would make them again if enough people signed a petition for them?

    1. Trapper Keepers — and binders like them — are still around. They’re available on Amazon as well as office supply stores like Staples. More common today are the zip-up styles, which are bulkier but hold more.

  2. my trapper keeper had a sailboat in the sunset. I don’t remember the border color scheme.

  3. Trapper Keepers were amazing from a functional standpoint alone. They kept all the random papers you accumulated organized, yet they weren’t bulky. You could change up the inner folders as your needs changed. I don’t think I would have graduated high school without mine (which was plain red, BTW).

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