In a pre-internet era, your clipboard, notepad, bookmarks, tabs, and folders used to have a very different meaning. A cultural touchstone for 80s and 90s kids, oh yeah and a school supply staple for organization or whatever, Trapper Keepers were the coveted school-age accessory for Generations X and Y. Like an iPad with, you know, an actual pad of paper. The familiar fun folders have been featured on Family Guy, Dawson’s Creek, South Park, Full House, and Napoleon Dynamite. John Mayer called Trapper Keepers “the genesis of OCD for my generation.” It’s easy to forget how popular they once were, but in fact over 75 million Trapper Keepers have been purchased and on eBay a vintage mint Trapper can sell for $50 or more. How did the rainbow and pony adorned portfolios come to be so adored?
Launched in 1978 by the Mead Corporation, the beloved Trapper Keeper notebooks were brightly colored three-ring binders, whose rings were made of plastic not metal, that held “Trapper” folders, and closed up neatly and secure with a PVC flap that snapped shut, but was eventually replaced with Velcro. Inside, a plastic clip could hold a pad and a pencil (a patented feature along with the no-pinch plastic rings), and an easy-access conversion and multiplication chart was printed in the folders.
Mental Floss talked with ACCO Brands, which acquired Trapper Keeper parent company Mead in 2012, and got them to open up about the binder’s long legacy: “The Trapper Keeper is one of the most recognized school brands of all time,” says Jessica Hodges, Director of School Marketing for ACCO Brands.
The original actual folders came in three primary colors (red, blue, and green) and there were six outer Trapper Keeper options: those same three solid colors and three stock-photo designs including a soccer theme, a dog and cat, and a scenic view of the Oregon coast. “Additional designs were introduced annually and were reflective of what was relevant in the eyes of our student consumers—unicorns, cool cars, video games,” Hodges says. In 1988, the Trapper Keeper designer series really boosted the craze. The company brought on technicolor artist Lisa Frank, licensed cartoon characters like Garfield and Sonic the Hedgehog, and made young boys swoon over their rad Lamborghini illustrations.
Joshua Fruhlinger at Engadget called Trapper Keepers “the greatest three-ring binder ever created … Trapper Keepers—the way they combined all of one’s desktop tools—were an early incarnation of the smartphone.”
The first interior folders sold for 29 cents each, while the durable Trapper Keepers themselves originally had a suggested retail price of about five bucks. The newly introduced incarnation of the iPhone, its more economic 5C counterpart, retails for about $200. File that away. –– Casandra Armour