Sticker Album

When I was a kid, the big trend in stickers was scratch-and-sniff technology—yet another miracle of the modern age we now take for granted. 

My circa 1985 sticker album—a colorful spiral notebook with 16 cardboard pages on which blank spaces for stickers are surrounded by jolly cartoon animals, foods, hearts, stars, and other illustrations—devotes an entire two-page spread to scratch-and-sniff varieties. 

Having just re-scratched and re-sniffed each one, I have compiled the following report on what these stickers smell like now, after more than three and a half decades since going into the album. (Keep in mind, however, that the nose doing the sniffing is no longer factory-fresh, either.)

Birthday cakePaper
Grape snow coneWelch’s grape soda
PizzaBlack pepper
Strawberry shortcakeNothing
Pine treePine-Sol
BubblegumOld cotton candy
Ketchup I think?Nothing
Peach sundaeMore like guava if you ask me
Mint chocolate chipMint
Bubble bathSoap
Caramel appleCaramel
Root beerBlack licorice
Orange sodaGasoline and old poppers
PineappleSoap (it’s right next to the bubble bath)

Further evidence that the collection is a product of its time: There are three Mr. T stickers; two appearances by Alvin and one by Simon of Alvin and the Chipmunks in their 1980s Saturday-morning-cartoon comeback guises (Theodore is nowhere to be seen); and a whopping 32 Cabbage Patch Kids stickers, based on the line of smush-faced dolls that were wildly popular during the Reagan era. 

To be clear: The stickers I’ve just listed are not scratch-and-sniffable. As much as we all loved Mr. T at the time, items marketed to children were not usually scented with his musk.

Collecting Cabbage Patch Kids stickers was not the only way I participated in that particular craze. I also had one of the dolls. His name was Wendall. We had our picture taken together at a Sears Portrait Studio, and I slept with him every night, even after I threw up on him when I had a stomach bug. My mom had to scrub the barf chunks out of his yarn hair. 

Someone later gave me another Cabbage Patch Kid. He was dressed as an astronaut. I never felt any devotion to him. In fact, I don’t even remember his name.

Wendall, on the other hand, was special. Come to think of it, he might qualify as my first—and definitely not my worst—boyfriend. 

Other stickers in the album pay adhesive tribute to pop culture figures, commercial products, and tourist attractions not specifically tied to the ‘80s. These include Six Flags St. Louis (which I do not remember visiting), Heathcliff the cat, Fred Flintstone, Crayola crayons, Snoopy and Woodstock from Peanuts, Barnum’s animal crackers, Sugar Babies candy, Batman, the Tulsa Zoo, and McDonald’s mascots Ronald McDonald, Grimace, and the Hamburglar. 

Ronald is wearing ice skates, Grimace rides a toboggan, and the Hamburglar holds a hockey stick, so I’m guessing the fast food chain distributed these stickers during the winter. 

It makes sense to me that the Hamburglar’s favorite winter sport is hockey. The puck looks like—though probably tastes better than—a McDonald’s beef patty, and the beloved home invader could use the stick to incapacitate his victims. We’ll set aside the larger issue of how, with regard to hamburglary, recidivism has gone unaddressed for decades under the failed administration of Mayor McCheese.

The remaining stickers fall under one of two categories: 1.) badges of approval (stars, smiley faces, words of encouragement) presumably given to me by teachers and 2.) cute critters—kittens, ducklings, bears, puppies, and so on. 

You’ll be able to peruse the collection for yourself when I die and donate my papers to the Harry Ransom Center, the archive of cultural artifacts that advance the study of the arts and humanities at the University of Texas at Austin. 

It’s a good bet that some of the scratch-and-sniff stickers will still stink. 

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