Rememories: Back to School & Big Chief Tablets

Rememories: Back to School & Big Chief Tablets

by Audrey Franz August 22, 2010 33 Comments

Remember when school started after Labor Day and your school supplies included an 8-pack of Crayolas and a Big Chief Writing Tablet?

I do.

 

Truth is, I coveted Lucy's 64-pack of Crayolas and that wonderful little built-in sharpener on the box, but we were all equal when it came to the Big Chief. I loved Big Chief tablets. Well...truth is, I loved them except when I had to make a correction and my eraser eroded the paper and it got all nappy. I think I was learning to form my letters and must have been pressing too hard or something. Or maybe it was just jangled nerves from that ruler-wielding nun, Sister Mary Theresa. Or that tuna smell permeating from my Barbie lunchbox. 

Anyway, forty-five years later, I am still loving Big Chief tablets, but this time for the graphics instead of the precision lined paper. The iconic school supply has changed a lot over the years and its history is a bit vague and sketchy. Prices have ranged from 10¢ in the 1950's to a couple of bucks in the 1970's. Ownership and production have changed as well with early manufacturing by Western Tablet Co., then Mead Corp., and finally Springfield / Everett Pad & Paper.  The graphics have ranged from a very traditional illustration in the 1930's, to groovy pop art in the 1970's.  Sadly, though, Big Chief Writing Tablets are no longer being produced. Don't know why. I hope it didn't come under the same scrutiny as the "Indian Red" crayon that got re-named "Chestnut" because of "cultural sensitivity".   (FYI: I didn't have an Indian Red crayon in my 8-pack, but Lucy did... uhmmm!)

Today, you can view Jason Liebig's collection of vintage Big Chief tablets on Flicker. He has done a nice job and I have "borrowed" from his assemblage for my Big Chief timeline below.

By the way, which Big Chief cover do you remember having?
I'd love to hear!

Oh, and how about these two cute little critters? They started 2nd and 5th grade this year and sadly there is not a Big Chief Tablet in the lot.

Harris - 1st day of 2nd Grade

Harris - 1st day of 2nd Grade

 

Presley - 1st day of 5th Grade

 




Audrey Franz
Audrey Franz

Author



33 Responses

Linda Odum Bell,MD
Linda Odum Bell,MD

May 16, 2016

Iloved the Big chief talblets. I can complelely visual how looked, feft and smelled. Yes, the paper was not of a very high quality but I loved them.
Seeing the kids with the piles of books on their desks remind me of how things have changed. When I was growing up in Cabot, AR. population 1,147 in the 1950’s , the school was an A class school with 73 in my graduation class. Now it is the third largest school in AR and I understand that this year they have gone bookless with all the students having electronic notebooks. Now that is progress. Not having to carry 30lbs of books abound with you—-we didn’t have backpacks.

Cheryl
Cheryl

May 16, 2016

Leslie – I totally forgot about the cigar boxes! Now I’m remembering the smell of the cigar box mixed with
crayolas come May… nice re-memory!

Leslie Webster
Leslie Webster

May 16, 2016

Mine would have been in the early 60’s and the big pencils and the cigar box. Now that box was the best thing to put supplies in. The rounded sissors and the glue. OH, the crayons had to be the 64 pack. I am a teacher and it still is exciting for each new school year. Thanks for posting the pictures of the Big Chief tablets.

Jean Manning
Jean Manning

May 16, 2016

just loved the Big Chief tablets…my memory would be the 1970’s and later since I started kinder in 1969 and 1st in 1970…thanks for taking me down that lane :) love the school pictures of Harris and Presley….

Cheryl
Cheryl

May 16, 2016

Linda – oh the smell! I remember…I wanted to write something about the smell but I thought people would think me crazy for sniffing paper! (glad I wasn’t the only one) And yes, times have changed – I haven’t heard about “bookless” but I can definitely see how “green” that would be in our politically correct world. Thanks for sharing.

Audrey Franz
Audrey Franz

May 16, 2016

You are right, there are not any Big chief tablets available. I was looking for one for Harris and had to settle for something else!

Melvin Smith
Melvin Smith

May 16, 2016

It’s amazing that 3-4 generations were taught the necessary skills with a Big Chief tablet and a #2 pencil. But now with all of our technology and gadgets we are being told that America is falling behind third world nations in educating our children. I think it something more than the Big Chief that is missing in American education.

Cheryl
Cheryl

May 16, 2016

Gail,
I would love to get a hold of a few tablets myself. They are not being made anymore – not sure if it is not “politically correct” or what, but Mead no longer makes them. I did see someone trying to get Mead to “Bring Back the Big Chief Tablets” on Facebook.
Here is what their home page says:
“Remember Big Chief tablets? We learned to write on them? Vintage looking, wide-spaced lines, and a big red cover with an Indian chief on it? Well, they’re out of production and that’s a crime. Studies show that people who learn to write on a BCT have better handwriting, higher SAT scores, and a clean criminal record. Additionally, it has been suggested, though not proven, that their souffles do not fall. Kids today don’t know what they’re missing. Let’s start a petition to bring them back!”
I think I’m going to go become a fan.
How ’bout you?

Gail
Gail

May 16, 2016

It is funny how many people remember the Big Chief tablets. I recently started looking for one for my grandson. He is just starting school and I was excited to start looking for the "really"cool school supplies. I am so disappointed that they stopped making them. If anyone knows of where i might find one I would be forever grateful.

Cheryl
Cheryl

May 16, 2016

Jean, are you looking for just the ruled page or the actual covers? If it is ruled pages, you might check istock, shutterstock, or a similar type site.

Jean McCartney
Jean McCartney

May 16, 2016

I’ve been looking for one of these for years. Does anyone know where I can find a medium to high quality image of one of the sheets inside?

Cheryl
Cheryl

May 16, 2016

John, Thanks for sharing your “re-memory” of your school days and Big Chief tablets. Can’t you just close your eyes and recall the smell and feel of opening up a fresh tablet and the potential of a sharp #2 pencil?

john kubowicz
john kubowicz

May 16, 2016

Yes ! Late 50s early 60s grade school. Should have been doing school work. The"Big Chief" tablet paper I remember I would start off drawing boat shape for a base then I ‘d create this stair step triangular shape of colored lines with my crayons. I’m an artist by profession.
How many times I wish I would have saved those.

Ruth Perea
Ruth Perea

May 16, 2016

WOW! This brings back memories

Cheryl
Cheryl

May 16, 2016

David, ah yes, the mimeographed test – slightly damp, lovely violet print, and the smell! Thanks for the memories!

David Sprinkle
David Sprinkle

May 16, 2016

Sigh!! Just seeing the images brings back the memories! Sadly, the Big Chief left us in 2001 and will soon be nothing more than one of those words that dates you( “What’s a Big Chief?”). I still remember the smell of my crisp new blue jeans that made a crinkly sound when you walked in them! I most remember the smell of a freshly mimeographed test form(first thing you would do was pick it up and smell it!)

The Trapper Keeper’s Forgotten Older Sibling « embarrassingtreasures
The Trapper Keeper’s Forgotten Older Sibling « embarrassingtreasures

May 16, 2016

[…] the 1960s, Mead also acquired Westab, the company that invented the spiral notebook and produced Big Chief tablets, a back-to-school staple for mid-century […]

Cheryl
Cheryl

May 16, 2016

yeah, new! It was simple and good.

Chris
Chris

May 16, 2016

Ah the smell of opening your tablet on the first day of school! What wonderful memories. New teachers, new friends, we really did grow up in the best of times!

floyd hicks
floyd hicks

May 16, 2016

I have a plate from the old printing presses that made the first big chief tablets. I am an avid historian but haven’t had much luck in finding anything similar. E-mail is the best way to reach out to me.

Louann Cole
Louann Cole

May 16, 2016

My father worked for Southwest Tablet Manufacturing Company in Dallas, Texas. They also printed the Big Chief tablets. I have one of the printing plates on an easel in my game room.

Cheryl
Cheryl

May 16, 2016

Great Michael, will check it out!

Michael
Michael

May 16, 2016

Hey… In 2012 a company in Texas started making Big Chief tablets again. You can only get them on Amazon right now. They are 4.95

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_2_9/178-8618232-0401052?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=big+chief+writing+tablet&sprefix=BIG+CHIEF%2Caps%2C448

Cheryl
Cheryl

May 16, 2016

I’m a bit older and I can still remember the smell!

rusty martin
rusty martin

May 16, 2016

would like information regarding which tablet my grand fathers likeness was used for, his name was cheif sivermoon, michael james martin from comanche, oklahoma. Please provide me and my family this valuable piece of our grandfathers legacy. (580) 699-2710

ivykoehler
ivykoehler

May 16, 2016

Thanks Eric!

Eric
Eric

May 16, 2016

I love this thread! I think I’ll add it to my favorites. I am so glad I am not the only one who can identify with the nostalgic smells!

ivykoehler
ivykoehler

May 16, 2016

Amazing LouAnn! Would you mind sending us a picture of it? You can email marketing@ddranchwear.com. We’d love to see it!

Thomas
Thomas

May 16, 2016

I remember when my dentist’s wife who was my sunday school teacher took us to Southwestern Tablet Co. in Dallas and we got to see the manufatoring of paper products. At the end of the tour we got a sample pack. This had to be in 1959 or 1960. That smell of fresh ink and ink wash stayed with me my whole life.

Cheryl
Cheryl

May 16, 2016

Jon, some of our readers have recently purchased Big Chiefs on Amazon. Here is the link:
http://www.amazon.com/Big-Chief-Writing-Primary-Springfield/dp/B0094ITC9Y.
Note: I don’t think this is the same Big Chief quality as we knew it but try it out and let us know what you think.

Jon Garner
Jon Garner

May 16, 2016

I remember big chief tablets in the eary fifties when I started school in Louisiana. we got 2 #2 pencils one slick tablet one rough tablet complements of the Louisiana state board of education each 6 week term. Later, when I was grown, I managed TG7Y stores for years. All my store notes went on big chief tablets. I also sold them in my Crafts etc Store when I worked for them.

Now, I do research on family and write stories of local history. I have looked for Big Chief tablets locally to use, but they are not available in the Natchez Miss, Vidalia, La area. If anyone knows where they are, please let me know.

Thanks,

Jon Garner

Cheryl
Cheryl

May 16, 2016

Rusty, unfortunately we are unaware that your grandfather, Chief Silvermoon, posed for Big Chief tablets. We would love to hear more of the history – please share!

IBRICH
IBRICH

May 16, 2016

They are available from Amazon.com. I remember the tablets from the late 50’s/early 60’s. The memories bring me back to a simpler time, indeed.

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