I never had a Trapper Keeper growing up, as I was a victim of an educational system that loved banning things kids love. But knowing how much the things are worth now, I wish I had been smart enough to beg my mom for one and put it in a time capsule. Still revered as one of the most popular school supplies ever invented, the ‘80s and ‘90s sensations have found new life as Millennial collectibles, selling for up to 19,500 percent of their original prices. If you’re lucky enough to find one with a colorful design in good shape at a thrift store or at your parents’ house, don’t think twice about taking it home with you. At that point, the hardest choice is between selling it immediately online or holding onto it for a while, hoping the market is only starting to heat up.
On eBay, the most expensive models have sold for $100. Some sellers claim they’ve made even more. Marilyn F. who sells vintage school supplies and clothing on her Etsy store, said that Trapper Keepers with rare designs, like selections from the psychedelic Designer Series or hard-to-find Lisa Frank editions, can go for as much as $250, though on average they go for $80. Across the online marketplace world, Trapper Keepers have proved to be modest goldmines, joining the likes of action figures and video games as nostalgic commodities.
As with any kind of collectible, there’s a hierarchy of value. According to Marilyn F., the most on-demand Trapper Keepers are the same ones that inspired envy in the classroom — namely cute animals, unicorns, aliens and anything by ‘90s kids-kitsch giant Lisa Frank. Some of eBay’s biggest sellers have been a green Trapper Keeper featuring cute puppies (both photographed and cartoon), one featuring a neon, tropical design, as well as a cartoon variety featuring a student with a kick me sign on his back. (A product capturing the apex of middle school subversiveness.)
“Everybody wants the binder they had growing up,” Marilyn F. told The Outline via phone. She said she finds the binders in thrift stores, bookstores, and occasionally buys them from friends. She admitted to hanging on to ones that catch her eye before eventually putting them up for sale. “I tend to go less puppies and kittens, more strange fruit and kisses and all that stuff.”
And it’s not just Trapper Keepers accruing value thanks to the ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia craze. A Lisa Frank zip up binder sold for $200 in March. A Nike pencil pouch you can clip into such a binder sold for $30 in April. Just yesterday, a Strawberry Shortcake binder/folder/notepad set sold for $150. According to Marilyn, two-pocket folders are her biggest source of business. Single folder sets including two matching pens are listed for anywhere from $9 to $100 in her store.
These prices are impressive considering the original retail value of these items, though by no means whopping values in the grand scheme of resold vintage collectibles. Still, that’s precisely what makes vintage school supplies this year’s hottest cultural product: Overly nostalgic Millennials (hi) strapped by student loan debt (oh, hey) can still opt into the collectibles fun, all without ever leaving middle school.