The story of stickers
Stan the Man
In 1907, in Oklahoma City, a baby was born who would grow up to change the world in a subtle — but, uh, sticky — way. Of course, no one knew it at the time. This baby — R. Stanton Avery — grew up to be a young man who desperately wanted to go to college and escape his life of poverty, but he couldn’t afford it. He rented some living space — actually, it was just a chicken coop, now empty of its avian inhabitants — and got himself a job. Little by little, he saved money, and eventually managed to put himself through college.
In 1935, he had an idea. A good one. But he needed money to try it out. His fiancée, Dorothy Durfee, gave him $100 (which was a lot back then) to use toward his invention. To start, he assembled a motor from a washing machine, parts of a sewing machine, and a saber saw. I personally wouldn’t have a clue what to do with those, but Mr. Avery managed to use them to invent a machine that made self-adhesive labels. In other words, he invented stickers as we know them (other stickers at the time needed to be moistened before sticking them on, like lick-and-stick stamps). His stickers were also the first that could be cut into any shape.
His original company, Kum Kleen Products, was soon renamed Avery Adhesives and has been operating since 1936. He developed all kinds of adhesives, including some that come off easily; he also invented better backing sheets, and other things. He patented 18 inventions.
You’ve surely seen the self-adhesive labels with the Avery brand name and logo, even if you never noticed it before. The company also makes labels for commercial products (like the sticker labels on your shampoo bottle and other products) and stickers for cars. They’re also one of the main suppliers of the US Postal Service’s self-adhesive stamps. Now known as Avery Dennison, the company is valued at over $6 billion.
You probably never heard of R. Stanton Avery before today. He may have been just a poor boy living in a rented chicken coop, but he never let obstacles stand in the way of his dreams. Fondly remembered as Stan the Sticker Man (or just Stan the Man), his story — and his stickers — are inspiration to all those who have ideas. Here’s hoping they stick like his!
Mark This on the Calendar
You’ll have to wait almost another year for this one, but don’t forget to celebrate National Sticker Day next January 13. The date was chosen in honor of Stan the Sticker Man, R. Stanton Avery, who was born on that day in 1907. He passed away in 1997. How should you celebrate? Trading some stickers sounds about right, don’t you think?
But Who Was First?
Stan the Man may have created stickers as we know them, but the idea of stickers existed way before 1935. Some historians even think that ancient Egyptians invented stickers (or something like them). That’s because archaeologists have unearthed bits of paper (or, more specifically, papyrus) that were stuck onto walls of ancient markets. These “stickers” were actually price tags of sorts — used to display the prices of things they were selling (99 cent mummies, anyone? Just kidding). Stickers basically worked with glue or paste or plaster or whatever stuck until the next invention came around.
Fast-forward a couple thousand years: A man by the name of Sir Rowland Hill (just known as Mister Rowland Hill in those days) invented a kind of adhesive paper in 1839. Hill wasn’t specifically setting out to make sticky paper. He was actually trying to fix the British postal service — or at least improve it.
As part of his improvements, he created the Penny Black, the world’s first adhesive stamp. It had to be adhered with something wet, but it did the trick. This stamp proved that the postage had been paid. (Previously, postage was paid by the person who received the mail and not the one who sent it. Can you imagine having to pay for your junk mail?) Penny Blacks were sold on unperforated sheets (meaning you had to cut them out yourself). They also had to be made wet in order to stick to the envelope. Nevertheless, Hill’s stamps were such a big help to the postal system, he was actually knighted for his invention (and that’s how he became known as Sir). Cool, right? Anyway, Sir Rowland’s sticky paper (that required glue to work) was exactly what Stan the Man sought to improve on.
Nowadays, there are stickers made of all kinds of materials, including foil, latex, paper, plastic, and vinyl. The sticky backing may be removable or repositionable, and there are many levels of stickiness, including being permanently stickable. Stickers can be designed to survive outdoors, underwater, and in all kinds of conditions — like inside your school knapsack!
What’s It Worth?
Okay, confession time: I still have my own sticker collection from when I was a kid, complete with Mrs. Grossman’s, Lisa Frank, Sanrio, Mello Smello, and Sandylion stickers. I had loved collecting the colorful and cute stickers, the sparkly ones, the puffy ones, the stickers that said funny things, and so on. And I saved, and saved, and saved it. (I was just nerdy like that, okay?) But when my own daughters started collecting, my collection got ransacked. Should I have saved it? Were the stickers worth anything? And what about sticker collections nowadays?
Although they’re super fun to collect, stickers aren’t really worth much. They’re cheaply produced and made on a mass scale, and they don’t hold up so well when they get really old. In 2019, someone sold 36 sheets of 1980s stickers (Hello Kitty, Smurfs, scratch n’ sniff, and puffies) in prime condition… for $203.50 on eBay. That’s a decent amount of money, but not compared to other collectibles. An extremely rare sheet went for $80. But that was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of find.
It’s interesting what becomes all the rage, isn’t it? Over the years, we’ve seen things like Silly Bandz, Rubik’s Cubes, fidget spinners, squishies, and slime get their 15 minutes of fame. Lately kids have been collecting stickers from doctors’ offices, which kind of makes sense, considering how much we’ve all been in doctors’ offices since the pandemic began. It’s also a cool collection because doctors give ‘em out for free.
But, wait, back up… Why do doctors give out stickers?
Make medical care (a tiny bit) more enjoyable for patients
Help kids avoid focusing on minor medical procedures
Increase a kid’s confidence about returning to the doctor (especially stickers that say stuff like, “Super Patient” or “I Was Great!”)
Can be used to provide positive health messages (like “Don’t Forget to Wash with Soap!” or “Brush Those Pearly Whites!”)
Honor and commemorate medical procedures, like getting stitches out or having a tooth pulled
There’s also another kind of medical sticker, but these don’t have colorful pictures and positive slogans on them. These are the stickers your doctor’s office or hospital may print to stick on your file, label blood samples with, and adhere to forms you sign. There are also stickers used in health care that mark things as dangerous, urgent, or biohazardous. Something to look out for the next time you’re at the doctor!
Want to try a little experiment? Count the stickers you see in a single day. Not just the stickers in your friends’ albums, but the stickers you see on food packaging, labels, envelopes, things in your house, pieces of fruit, and so on. How many stickers did you count? Were you surprised?
Just for Fun: Sticker Quiz
What does your sticker collection say about your personality? Take the quiz.
You use your stickers to:
- Collect, but not to trade. Who would want to give them away?
- Collect and trade, because trading’s at least half the fun.
- Stick all over your stuff; color is cool!
- Give out to everyone. Isn’t it fun to make people happy?
Your sticker collection:
- Is color-coded, alphabetized, divided by type, and 100 percent organized.
- Has a designated page or two for the most valuable and most tradable.
- Is stuck all over your notebooks/binders/water bottle/clothing/body.
- Is in a plastic baggie in your knapsack, in your pocket, in your drawer, wherever.
You prefer to collect stickers that:
- Still have backing and are in mint condition.
- Are of all the different types. Gotta get them all!
- Are colorful, puffy, sparkly, and scented; they’re more fun like that!
- Are simple and easy to give out.
Your plans for your collection include:
- Saving it forever… or at least until you have kids.
- Using it as long as it’s trendy and then… who knows?
- Having fun with them for as long as you want, regardless of whether they’re in or out.
- Just always having a few sheets around so you can use them to make people happy.
Your little brother raids your sticker collection, so you:
- Tear out your hair and cry. Just kidding. But you’re pretty upset.
- Want him to somehow replace it, because how are you going to trade otherwise?
- Want to see what he stuck them on.
- Hope he had fun with them. You would’ve given him some anyway.
If you answered mostly A’s: You’re probably an organized, careful, and thoughtful person who thinks long-term and appreciates the value of what you have. Great traits for school and for life!
If you answered mostly B’s: You sound like a social butterfly and a networker. You see objects as a vehicle for connecting with others. Your business mind could help you become an entrepreneur one day.
If you answered mostly C’s: Hey, free spirit! You sound like a creative and colorful person, who appreciates the small stuff and who can use simple things to make the world a more beautiful place.
If you answered mostly D’s: You’re a generous one, with a great talent for making others happy and for thinking beyond yourself. Use this gift to brighten other people’s lives — and don’t forget to save some for you, too.
Album Page All the Rage
If you know anyone who grew up in the 1980s, they probably experienced a little “stickermania.” That was a craze in the ‘80s where kids started collecting all kinds of stickers. Looking back, researchers who study trends think that stickers got super popular because of Mrs. Grossman’s stickers. Who’s that?
Mrs. Grossman’s is a sticker company that’s still around today, but it all began with a big red heart sticker created by designer Andrea Grossman in 1979. The company’s most popular product was Stickers by the Yard, essentially a roll of stickers (kind of like what you might see at the doctor’s office today). When Grossman saw how well those stickers sold and how kids were starting to collect them, she rolled out puffy stickers, fuzzy stickers, sticker albums, and more. Poof! Stickermania!
Sticker collecting was popular for both boys and girls because they were very cheap, easily collectible, easily tradable, easy to store, and just so fun and cool to look at. They could be brought to school and traded during lunch and recess without any trouble. And when they started coming in so many varieties (think clear, holographic, scratch n’ sniff, and so on), they became even more fun to collect.
Gwyneth Stewart, a current sticker collector (and adult) known for her huge collection, says she loves stickers because they’re just “universal joy.” Another sticker lover, Maureen Vazquez, remembered her childhood love of stickers and started her own mail subscription sticker business. They sell over one million stickers a year and have subscribers in 50 countries. “What I’ve built the Pipsticks business on — it’s not the stickers,” she says, “it’s the feeling that stickers give you.”
Back in the ‘80s, Mrs. Grossman’s, Sandylion, Sanrio, Mello Smello, and Lisa Frank were five of the most popular brands, but kids really just enjoyed collecting them all. Some kids stuck them into albums, others cut the stickers off the sheets (keeping the backing on) so they could be traded, and others kept them on full sheets. How do you keep yours?
But then sticker collecting as a hobby seemed to die off. Stickers weren’t sold as much. Kids mostly got stickers on tests and at the doctor’s office… which somehow didn’t make it so much fun to collect them. Until now!
3000 to 300 BCE
Ancient Egyptians plaster papyrus to walls, inventing the first “stickers”
Government uses tax stamps to collect taxes on certain products
Lithography (lihth-aw-gru-fee) is invented by German Alois Senefelder. It soon becomes the best method for printing colors onto paper stickers
Sir Rowland Hill invents the first adhesive postage stamp
Glue gum stickers are introduced. These stickers, attached with a kind of gum, inspire product developers to decorate their products (and compete) with colorful labels
R. Stanton Avery invents the self-adhesive sticker
Forest P. Gill creates the first bumper stickers. (By the 1980s, his company had produced over one billion!)
Stickermania! Sticker collecting becomes wildly popular with brands like Lisa Frank, Sandylion, Mrs. Grossman’s, and more
Digitally printed stickers emerge, enabling people to print stickers and labels at home, and companies to make small runs of stickers
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 899)
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