Those direct-response ads in comic books beguiled my brother and me: Sea monkeys! X-ray specs! A real submarine! But the prices were always just out of reach.
One ad finally snared us: The headline shouted: “100 PC. TOY SOLDIER SET.” The illustration showed lines of soldiers among tanks and cannons, all shooting at unseen enemies. Airplanes roared overhead. A flotilla of ships steamed across a distant sea. There was a list of all 100 pieces: a treasure trove of fighting men and their materiel.
The clincher, oddly, was a subhead: Packed in this pasteboard footlocker. There was an arrow pointing at what looked like a military footlocker. We didn't know what pasteboard was, but it sounded sturdy, and the footlocker alone seemed worth the $1.25, shipping included. So we pooled our quarters and sent them off with the coupon.
Six to eight weeks later, the footlocker appeared in the mailbox. The fact that it fit in the mailbox, nestled between envelopes, was the first sign something wasn't quite right. It was about the size of those boxes the bank mails your blank checks in. And pasteboard, it turned out, was a flimsy version of cardboard.