Flick through 45 years of retro gadgets in a huge online archive of Argos catalogues

This year’s Argos Black Friday deals are nearly here, but there’s time to take a walk down memory lane before the sales begin.

Argos has published a huge archive of its catalogues from the 1970s onwards, in an collection called ‘The Book of Dreams’ (a name coined by comedian Bill Bailey). The catalogues, which extend from 1974 onward, feature some classic tech and toys – plus a few real oddities.

The stranger highlights include a Casio keyboard from 1980-1981, which features five sounds (including piano and flute), plus 10 preset rhythms (such as bossa nova and rhumba). It all sounds fairly reasonable and par for the course for an electric keyboard from the 80s – but for some reason, Casio chose to build in an electric calculator as well.

It certainly predated the trend for playing tunes on a scientific calculator, and probably sounded better too.

Casio musical instrument and calculator

Casio’s ‘electronic musical instrument and calculator’ is an odd mashup of 80s technology

In the days before home security cameras and Ring doorbells, the only tech protecting your home from would-be thieves was a good, old-fashioned burglar alarm. Argos took a rather dramatic approach to advertising these in 1985-1986, illustrating the page with a shadowy, backlit figure pressed menacingly against a pane of retro obscured glass.

You’ll notice that Argos wasn’t just selling alarms – it also had a safe for your valuables disguised as a mains socket. Not as useful as a Tile tracker if your items are actually stolen, but a cunning idea nonetheless.

Argos home security

Argos took a dramatic approach to marketing home security tech in the 1980s

By 1991-1992, radio cassette players had taken off in a big way, with several pages of the catalogue entirely devoted to them. “Nowadays, there are so many features available on audio equipment that not all of them are readily understood,” Argos explained kindly. “Our aim here is to explain some of them.”

Sadly the catalogue didn’t include a cross-reference to a page featuring the pencils necessary to sort out your tapes when they spilled.

Argos radio cassette players

In the 90s, Argos stocked a dizzying array of nearly identical radio cassette players

Argos began stocking video games in the 1980s, with the Mattel Intellivision and Atari Ingersoll, and in the 90s its pages were graced by the Gameboy, NES and Sega Master System, alongside the Commodore C64.

It’s interesting to note that a NES game that cost £40 in 1991 would be about £90 in today’s money. Gaming has become more affordable since then, and we’re expecting to see some great deals on consoles this Black Friday and Cyber Monday – particularly bundled with several games.

Argos video games

Games became a key part of Argos’s entertainment offering in the 1990s

The full archive is well worth a browse, though be warned – you might find yourself pining for that Scalextric set or Mr Frosty your parents refused to buy for you at Christmas.

As for Bill Bailey, to thank him for his dedication to the catalogue, this year the “good wardens of Argos” gifted him with his own laminated Book of Dreams to treasure forever.

Now where’s a little blue pen when you need one?

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