How many of you out there have wondered whatever happened to your old treasures that you had as a child? Did you lose them yourself, or did your parents throw them away?

I'm sure we all ordered those cool decoder rings so that we would be the only one around who could read the secret messages. With your parents' help, you sent in all the required things and then waited anxiously for the mailman to bring it to you.

Little did we know back then that those treasures would be worth a lot of money now. Nor did we have any idea that an unopened one would be worth even more. On most old stuff, if you have the box it came in and the instructions, they could be worth more than the article itself.

Remember when the Cracker Jack prizes were more than just a piece of paper with a joke on it? Cracker Jacks were invented by two brothers, Frederick and Louis Rueckheim, who set up a stand in Chicago and started selling their concoction of molasses, popcorn and peanuts.

In 1896 a salesman was given a sample of their product and exclaimed, "That's a cracker jack!" The phrase "cracker jack" was a slang expression in those days, meaning "something very pleasing." The brothers liked the name, and thus Cracker Jack had a name of its own and the brothers had the words trademarked.

In 1910, they began selling boxes that would have coupons in them that would be redeemed for prizes. One of the first redeemable prizes is rumored to have been a tan or gray flannelette baseball uniform.

By 1912, the boxes came packed with prizes like whistles, train cars, miniature books, magnifying glasses and other fun things to play with. In 1918, Jack the Sailor was created in the likeness of Frederick's young grandson, Robert, and his pet dog Bingo was also used for the drawing.

Most boys and even some girls saved baseball cards, and those old cards are worth a pretty penny nowadays. Trading cards was a big deal to us kids -- it was, "I'll give you two of these and one of this for just one of those."

Everyone walked away from the bargaining holding their new treasure and was so proud of their trading abilities. We usually traded off the lesser-known players for the more popular ones. And, of course, the cards we didn't want are the ones with the most value now.

By the time I was around 8 years old, the trading changed to pictures of movie stars. We bought the movie magazines, cut out the full-page photos and some of the smaller ones to trade for a star that we really wanted.

Collecting changed again when I became a teenager. By then, it was the sheet music for the latest songs that everyone had to have. The corner drugstore was the place to be on delivery day so you could get the latest songs and sing them with your girlfriends. It didn't matter if you could really sing or not, you just had to know all the words.

I have no idea where all my childhood treasures are now, if I lost them or if they got thrown away on one of our moves. In any case, if all of us had been able to save them, they wouldn't be selling for as much money now as they are.

I guess we'll just have to watch for one of our old treasures to sell for a lot of money. Then we can say, "I had one of those when I was a kid!"

A native of Minnesota, Carol Olson grew up in South Dakota and Walnut Creek and now lives in Pittsburg. Contact her at carolleeolson@aol.com.