My post earlier today about the Elmore D&D poster available through Sears in 1984 reminded again of the fact that, once upon a time, you could buy RPGs through major department stores. And by "RPGs," I don't just mean D&D but even some obscure games like FGU's Space Opera. I often find myself wishing I had easy access to old Christmas catalogs from places like Sears, JC Penny, and Montgomery Ward, because it'd be a lot of fun going through them to plot just what was available in their pages and when. So, I'm left with looking at sites like this one, which includes scans of some catalogs from the past, including the late 70s and early 80s.
Anyway, what I noticed today is that the 1983 Sears catalog has a fairly extensive collection of RPG products in it, while the 1985 catalog seems to have none. The site has no scans of the 1984 catalog, which I presume must have at some RPG products, given the ad from Dragon for the poster. What happened? 1984 marked the return of Gary Gygax to Wisconsin after his "exile" in California, when he attempted to wrest control of the company away from the Blume brothers. Despite appearances to the contrary, with lots of high profile products, like Dragonlance and various licensed properties (Marvel Superheroes, Indiana Jones, etc.), TSR was in turmoil throughout 1984 and into 1985, as Gygax, the Blumes, and, eventually, Lorraine Williams fought to determine the fate of the company. By the end of 1985, Gary was gone.
The Gygax version of history would have it that TSR was in financial trouble solely because of mismanagement by the Blumes. I have no reason to doubt that the Blumes made a number of mistakes that cost company dearly, but I can't help but wonder now, in light of the admittedly circumstantial evidence provide by the Sears catalogs, if maybe it wasn't solely bad decisions by the Blumes that hobbled TSR. Perhaps it was more that those bad decisions came at a time when the bottom had begun to fall out of the RPG fad. Whereas a couple of years previously, licensing a D&D woodburning set might not have had dire consequences, similar kinds of bizarre decisions now would. So, while I don't wish to exonerate the Blumes on very flimsy evidence, I nevertheless wonder if the overall decline in the faddishness of RPGs played an unacknowledged role in the decline in TSR's fortunes.
Anyone out there have any insights into this, particularly ones that, unlike mine, might be based on something more than the merest of speculation?