The infamous Commodore VIC-21 computer

Yes, you read that correctly: there was a Commodore VIC-21 computer, but it’s probably not what you’re thinking.  This wasn’t a follow up to the VIC-20 created by Commodore International.  No, the Commodore VIC-21 was created by a department store in Boston, MA (USA).

Lechmere Ad for the VIC-21

February 13, 1983 Lechmere advertisement for the Commodore VIC-21. The Boston Globe, page 40.

On Sunday, February 13, 1983 Lechmere Department Store took out a full page advertisement in the Boston Globe advertising the “Commodore VIC-21 with Powerful 21K Memory!”.  If Commodore didn’t create this computer, how was Lechmere selling it?

Simple – in a brilliant marketing maneuver, Lechmere decided to bundle a 16K expansion cartridge with a run of the mill Commodore VIC-20 computer and sell it as a new model, the VIC-21.  The advertisement showed a picture of a VIC-20 computer, but the “20” from the VIC-20 badge was crudely scratched out.  Remember, Photoshop hadn’t been invented yet so this was Lechmere’s low-budget marketing solution.  To further the ruse, Lechmere also had VIC-21 stickers printed up and affixed them to the original VIC-20 boxes from their inventory to cover up every VIC-20 reference on Commodore’s box.

InfoWorld March 28, 1983

InfoWorld March 28, 1983

Surely Commodore was somehow involved in this, right?  Not according to Myrddin Jones, Commodore’s Vice President of Marketing at the time.  If Commodore wasn’t involved then surely they put a stop to this brand dilution, right?  Nope, also according to Myr Jones, “You have to applaud Lechmere’s creativity.  I understand their sales are doing quite well.”  Similarly, Diane Ottinger, a Commodore spokeswoman said, “No one here seems upset about it.  How they sell it is up to them.”



While the VIC-21 made a bit of a splash in February, 1983 and drew the ire of competing computer retailers, they apparently weren’t as successful as the InfoWorld article made them out to be.  They were introduced in February at $199, then quickly lowered their price to $169, then $149.  By May of 1983 they were selling them for $119.

Here are several pictures of the VIC-21 from my personal collection:


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1 Response

  1. SEB says:

    I had no idea about this history but this make me more puzzled as Commodore Vic-21s were marketed as the main stream Commodore personal computer in israel, i remember friends having the Vic-21 with all the exact features described. actually until today i wasn’t aware that there was a Vic-20 and that it was the mainstream version. if i remember right it was 1983-1984 in the market were Aplle IIe clones, and Dragons 32 and 48 and Sinclairs and those Commodores. i also remember Radioshack and NCR with hybrid screens. and early School IBM AT or XT systems which were above the budget of mostly everyone. now to the article, if this is true, this store which created the Vic-21 must have had a direct line of export to Israel, as this was the mostly common Commodore computer sold there during those years.

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