Friday, February 16, 2007

Remember When Life was Pee Chee Keen?

Anybody who ever went to school in this country within the last 60 years knows about Pee Chee Folders. The one you recognize will pinpoint when you went to school. If the top one is familiar to you, you’re quite old, probably in your 80’s or 90’s. If the middle one is more recognizable, you’re probably somewhere in your 60’s. And if the bottom version brings back feelings of nostalgia, you’re around my age (48) or a little younger. Pee Chee’s always had the worst art on them, and more than one student got in trouble for drawing inappropriate things on them in order to spice up their boring look.

There’s a great web site I found that has articles on the history of advertising in America, and it also had this piece on Pee Chee Folders:

Sadly, the most recognized element of my own school days is no longer being made, even though it lasted almost 60 years, and became the most abused item in every student's arsenal of paper.
The yellow Pee Chee Folder was first released in 1943 by the Western Tablet and Stationery Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Early versions featured young boys and girls at the soda shop, or wartime images such as jeeps and navy ships.
By 1964, Mead Paper had bought Western Tablet and introduced new artwork to the Pee Chee line. These images of tennis players, football heroes, track stars, and dancers were drawn by Francis Golden, who received only a one-time fee for pictures that would grace millions of folders each year. Golden later became a prominent water colorist, and over the years new artists took over illustrating Pee Chee folder updates. According to Mead, the style of art was updated approximately every ten years.
The modification of Pee Chee folders could probably serve as some sort of psychological study-sort of like reading inkblots or tealeaves. Every student except the most fastidious, added elements, colored in parts, scratched out eyes, doodled on, or sexually modified the familiar images to suit their own bent and grade level. In my era, swastikas were a popular addition, as were Rat-Fink-style car drawings and rocket ships. Girls tended to favor romantic elements, such as hearts and flowers, while the boys were more likely to use a good eraser to blot out the faces of the runners, or add anatomically correct appendages. But since I went to Catholic school, none of that was left intact for very long. Consequently, in my classes many Pee Chee folders were drenched in ink, layer after layer first revealing, then covering up various parts of the drawings.

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