Stickers and Suckers: The Currencies of Childhood

This blog post is brought to you by three separate but related recent activities in my life:  

  1. Handing my sticker collection over to my 2 year old
  2. Celebrating Hallowe’en
  3. Reading Tom Sawyer

These three things started me thinking about how children learn to deal with the real world and operate within a community. Often, their play revolves around pretend small-scale versions of adult activities. Kids play house, doctor, and school, and all of these things are make-believe versions of a larger reality. On the other hand, the currencies of childhood are often very real.

I talked about collecting a bit here.

Collections can take many forms, and form the basis for whole economic systems. As adults, I think it’s safe to say that most of us try to collect money. ImageWhen I was a child, stickers were my currency. I had a photo album full of them. We had names and values for all the different types:  Shiny, smelly, pearly, fuzzy etc. Stickers would be brought to school and traded until they lost all their stickiness. These trades were performed with the utmost seriousness and I probably learned a number of economics lessons through that activity.

That photo album collection still exists (in a somewhat diminished form), and I recently handed the remains of it to my two year old, and let him go wild (the stickers are no longer teaching economic lessons, but rather finger dexterity).

Stickers were not the only currency of my childhood. I’m probably not the only person to remember hearing the phrase “Give me your fruit roll-up and I’ll be your best friend.” (Gag!  Who were these children?!) I wasn’t, however, one of the kids to frequently find this sort of currency tucked in my lunch bag. I was one of the poor, unfortunate children with apples, milk, and whole wheat sandwiches. These items, I might add, are NOT among the currencies of childhood. So, while I was not really a member of that particular lunchtime stock exchange, I believe it was important for many. (I think my parents must have weighed the benefits and my health won out over my opportunities to win false friends.)

Hallowe’en, on the other hand, formed an excellent opportunity for learning the lessons of trade. It was the one time of year where I Imagefound myself in possession of this ultimate form of childhood wealth. Those sticky toffee Halloween kisses bore far less value than a chocolate bar or package of runts. Rockets were plentiful (these are called Smarties in the US. Smarties are candy coated chocolate in Canada…confusing, no?), as were lollipops. Boxes of raisins carried no trading value whatsoever. Most trading I remember occurred between my sister and me, and I wonder if I was always entirely fair in these exchanges. It fascinates me to see my son start to sort these things out.

The third event that led to this blog post, was my re-reading of the classic novel, Tom Sawyer. It really highlighted how times have changed for children. Tom was a child whose currencies included live beetles, teeth, bits of string and dead cats. Yup, dead cats. I wonder what you could buy for a dead cat these days!?

Now that food trading is verboten in schools (due to peanut allergies and such), and children are discouraged from bringing toys from home, I wonder how these activities take place. There is no denying they still do.

Through the years, there have been many different types of collections waxing and waning in popularity, be they stickers, marbles, food, baseball cards, pogs or silly bandz. Love the trends or hate them, there is no denying that children design their own complicated and fascinating miniature economies, and these are anything but make-believe.  

What did you trade?

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4 Responses to Stickers and Suckers: The Currencies of Childhood

  1. eightdecades says:

    Well I was a boy in the late forties and early fifties of the last century. I traded bottle tops and buttons, marbles, and of course sports cards and comic books. But in my childhood if you had cork or balsa wood you were rich. These were the things of craft. Baby buggy wheels were the gold standard of big trading, they were needed for soap box racers. The next thing was glue.
    I could always get a trade for glue, in those days we used it to fasten things together.
    Love you post
    Thanks for the memory jog.

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