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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The "Sticky" Business Of Panini Group

I really don’t know any child who grew up not liking stickers.

I don’t know about anybody else, but stickers played a huge role in my childhood.  Even when I was four years old, I have vague memories of playing with those Garbage Pail Kids stickers and sticking them everywhere.  I stuck them on my toys, in my colouring books...

...on the living room walls, on the kitchen refrigerator, in my hair...

Yeah, you can say it.  I was a pretty mischievous child when it came to stickers.  But I couldn’t help myself.  All those stickers with their bright colours and different shapes were calling out my name.

And there wasn’t a sticker that I didn’t like.

I loved the stickers that had the adhesive ready-stick backing, but I also loved the stickers that you had to moisten the back to get them to stick.  I loved stickers that felt fuzzy, I loved stickers that glowed in the dark, I loved stickers that glittered and sparkled.  Stickers were just cool.

Whenever I was in elementary school, there was no bigger rush than getting a test back from the teacher and getting a huge sticker on the paper rewarding you for a job well done.  Seeing that gold star, smiley face, or “Good Job” sticker right there on the paper meant that I was on an instant high the rest of the day.  And every single teacher that I had in elementary school gave out stickers. 

Well, everyone except for my third grade teacher, who used stampers and ink pads.  Although I liked the stamp pads well enough, they weren’t as good as stickers.

For today’s blog entry, I thought that I would take my love of stickers and use it to talk about a popular activity that I partook in along with many other people my age.  And as it so happens, this activity is linked to my love of stickers.

Before I get into that, I’d like to talk a little bit about the company that was behind this activity that I loved so much, just for you to get an idea as to what they were about, how they were founded, and what drove the company to create this idea.

In the community of Modena, Italy, two brothers named Benito and Giuseppe Panini were operating a newspaper distribution office in the early 1960s.  And, they likely would have continued doing that had it not been for a discovery that they had found.  The two brothers found a small collection of stickers that were made to be attached with glue.  They were unsold merchandise that a Milan based company were unable to sell.  Seeing potential in these stickers, the Panini brothers purchased the leftover inventory, and began selling the items themselves, setting a price of ten lire for a two-pack.

By the end of the 1960/1961 fiscal year, the brothers had managed to sell over three million packets of stickers, and they soon discovered that they had a potential gold mine on their hands.

In 1961, Giuseppe founded the business known as the Panini Group, in which he would manufacture and sell his own stickers.  His brother Benito would join the company later that year.  Two more brothers, Franco and Umberto, would also join the company by 1963.

By 1963, the Panini Group continued to be a huge force on the marketplace.  In their first year of business, the company sold fifteen million packages of stickers.  The following year, that number grew to twenty-nine million sold!

During the mid-1960s, the company started printing themed sticker sets.  One of the more popular sets that were created back in that time period was the ones that featured soccer players.  The general public in and around Italy snatched up the stickers as quickly as they could be made, and are widely considered to be collector’s items today.  Children’s board games were also made where the stickers doubled as playing cards. 

And beginning in the 1970s, some changes to the way that the stickers were produced lead to the creation of a very successful venture.

In the early part of the decade, the stickers began to be manufactured with an adhesive backing, which allowed people to peel the stickers off and stick them onto a surface without needing glue.  Right around that same time, the Panini Group began publishing “L’Almanacco Illustrato del Calcio Italiano” (The Illustrated Guide to Italian Football), after purchasing the rights from Carcano publishing house.

Soon after, the company published their very first sticker album, “The 1970 Football World Cup Sticker Album”, which proved to be incredibly successful.

Thus, the Panini Sticker Album was born.

I have such fond memories of Panini Sticker Albums.  When I was just a little boy, I would jump at the chance to go grocery shopping with my mom.  At that time, I admittedly was bored out of my skull when it came to standing in the aisles of the grocery store.  My mother was (and still is) a very fussy shopper, and she would often spend an average of ten minutes in each aisle, trying to decide what she wanted to buy.

But then we got to the front checkouts, and I was in heaven.

At that time, my mom’s favourite grocery store was a little supermarket called O.K. Economy (it’s since been replaced by a dining establishment after closing up shop in the early 1990s).  And at the end of each cash register was the magazine rack.  There were Archie Digests, Reader’s Digests, tabloids, and horoscope books.

And on the bottom racks were where the Panini sticker albums (as well as Diamond brand albums, which were more common here in Canada) and packages of stickers were kept, and if I were behaving well in the store, she would buy me three packages of stickers for the sticker album that I was using at the time.

The packages of stickers were something along the lines of 49 cents for each package, of which each package contained anywhere from five to seven stickers. 

When you opened up the sticker album, you would see a whole bunch of numbered squares on each page, kind of like this.

In each package of stickers, the stickers were labelled with a different number.  All you would have to do is locate the number of the sticker that corresponded with the numbered space within the album.  All you would then have to do is stick the sticker on the space.

Each album contained at least one hundred stickers within the pages.  Most of the stickers were standard sized, but there were also some instances in which you would need a set of two or four stickers to stick together to create a bigger picture (for instance, to fill in the sticker picture, you’d need stickers 18-21).

The more stickers you bought, the better chance you had of completing a sticker album...but because the stickers came in random packages, sometimes you would inevitably get doubles, triples, or even quadruple copies of stickers.

Of course, this lead to a whole bunch of kids in the elementary school playground trading stickers desperately needed to complete their sticker albums.  And yes, I definitely was a part of that crowd who partook in the Panini Sticker Exchange.

MINI-CONFESSION:  In all my years of collecting sticker albums, I never managed to fully complete one in its entirety.  I did come close with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sticker album, but the supermarket stopped selling the TMNT sticker packs just before I found the last four stickers.

That was a part of Panini’s appeal though.  They literally had sticker albums on all subjects.  Certainly there were dozens of sticker albums that featured sports teams.  It made sense, given that their first album was sports-themed.  But there were so many other sticker albums out there for kids of both genders.  Some of the ones I remember owning over the years aside from the TMNT album I almost completed were largely based on cartoon shows I watched.  Among some of the albums were He-Man, Snoopy, The New Archies, The California Raisins, Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters, and Garfield.  But lest you think that Panini sticker albums were made solely for boys, think again.  There were just as many Panini sticker albums for Barbie, My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, and even on Troll dolls!

If it was a pop culture phenomenon, it was turned into a Panini Sticker Album.

These days, the Panini Group still manufactures stickers and albums all over the world.  In 1986, Panini opened up a sticker museum, and in 2006, the company teamed up with Coca-Cola and Tokenzone to produce the very first virtual sticker album for the FIFA World Cup.  The album was viewable in ten different languages.

Beginning in March 2009, Panini soon moved into the trading card business, purchasing famed trading card company Donruss.  Shortly after, the company began printing off their own baseball cards.  The following year, the company added hockey cards to their line-up.  And in 2010, the company acquired a license to create a sticker collection for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Not a bad legacy for a company that began with an accidental discovery by a couple of Italian brothers, huh?

It’s good to see that the Panini Group is still going strong over fifty years later.  Their sticker albums were creative, and kept millions of kids entertained.

It’s been years since I last used a Panini sticker album, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have a clue as to where one can purchase them anymore.  But I’ll never forget the rush that I felt looking through my Panini Sticker Albums, and always being regretful that I never managed to complete a sticker album in full.

I wonder if eBay still has any in stock...

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