Posts filed under ‘Candies We Miss’
One thing I love about the candy business is the general spirit of fun. Granted, things get messy sometimes (witness the trail of lawsuits left by every major candy company). But generally, something about the candy trade seems to appeal especially to folks with a good sense of humor.
And sometimes humor will get you a lot farther in business than any thing lawyers might come up with. Exhibit A, The COPY Bar.
It’s 1926, and the Williamson Candy Company is flush with the success of their signature candy bar, Oh Henry! Millions sold every month. The only problem is those pesky competitors, who keep trying to grab a share of the Oh Henry! riches with cheap knock-offs. Williamson prevails in court (see my post on the suit against Oh Johnnie), but the onslaught continues.
Fighting head on doesn’t work, so Williamson goes Zen, bending like the bamboo. If everybody else is going to sell a copy of Oh Henry!, then Williamson will too, by gum. The “Latest Copy of Oh Henry!” is a Williamson original, priced at 5 cents against 10 cents for big brother Oh Henry!
This new 5cent bar is a radical departure for us. Heretofore other manufacturers have made the imitations of our product. But, in line with our endeavor to be ‘first with the latest,’ we have decided upon the policy new, even radical in the candy industry–of making our own imitations.
Williamson conceded that it wasn’t “as good as” Oh Henry! At half the price, it couldn’t be. But on the other hand, he claimed it was better than the cheap Oh Henry! knockoffs everybody else was selling for a nickel.
In tandem with the announcement of the new bar, Williamson launched the “Confectioners’ “Copy” Club.” The Club’s founding document was published in the November 1926 issue of Confectioners Journal, together with a space for a roster listing the members.
Here I transcribe the text, as my summary could never do justice to this witty attack on the trade:
Sometime ago when Oh Henry! came into prominnece, there was such a rush of imitators that the candy trade, both wholesale and retail, was seriously embarassed. Few were able to keep up with the daily growing list of imitations.
To forestall this difficulty when “COPY” begins to be copied, and also to engender a clubbier feeling among the manufacturers who copy “COPY”, we are organizing the “CONFECTIONERS’ ‘COPY’ CLUB.”
The only requisite for membership in the COPY CLUB is the manufacture of a bar similar to “COPY”… From month to month the names of the duly self-elected memers will be published in the roster of the COPY CLUB in these pages.
By this means we hope to keep the candy trade posted as to who is copying “COPY” so that there will be no difficulty in identifying the clever manufacturers who have had the originality to make a bar like “COPY”.
Candy bar business was, as this snarky ad suggests, cut throat. Margins were slim. Williamson was committed to a quality product, but that meant selling Oh Henry! at 10 cents, even as more and more bars were coming out for 5 cents. COPY let Williamson have it both ways, defending Oh Henry! while also competing for the lower segment of the market.
COPY didn’t last long, and seems to have been advertised primarily as a footnote to Oh Henry! But COPY wasn’t really so much candy as a weapon. Chocolaty and sweet pea-nutty, to be sure, but a weapon nonetheless.
Each one of us has, I believe, our own personal candy Madeline. Mine is butterscotch. Callard & Bowser Butterscotch, to be precise.
If you’re old enough to think “text” means the stuff they read in church, you might remember Callard & Bowser. This was a line of toffees boxed in cigarette-style packages. The Callard & Bowser logo was a green and purple thistle. I remember a black box (licorice toffee, I think), and a silver box (maybe chocolate toffee?). But the only box I cared about was white: butterscotch. Or “butterrrrrrscotch,” as my father would tease. He wanted me to learn to roll my r’s the way he could.
Callard & Bowser Butterscotch was the flavor of my father’s love. I was three years old. Daddy would bring a box home each week on his way home from the university. And each night, I’d get a piece. The pieces were long rectangles, scored down the center and wrapped in shiny foil paper. The piece marched across the table toward me at the end of dinner, one step for each sip of milk. Finish my milk, and the prize was mine.
I still like milk (hmm, score one for Skinner). And I love butterscotch. It dawned on me recently that I hadn’t seen that C&B box in quite some time. A little poking around revealed a sad but familiar story: mergers, acquisitions, dropping of old brands, and poof! a classic candy is no more.
In this particular case, the corporate shell game is convoluted. Callard & Bowser was a venerated British confectioner, with origins way back in the 1830s. Today, the only C&B brand of confectionery that is still produced is Altoids, the Curiously Strong Peppermint. Rather than attempt to reconstruct the tragic events leading to the demise of my beloved butterscotch from scratch, I defer to the Wikipedia version of the eviscerating of Callard & Bowser:
Callard and Bowser-Suchard was sold by Beatrice Foods to Terry’s of York in 1982, which was then acquired by Kraft General Foods International/Philip Morris Tobacco Company in 1993. Wrigley’s of Chicago agreed to buy the C&B and Life Savers units from Kraft in November 2004 for USD$1.48 billion after beating out competitors Hershey, Mars, Nestlé and Cadbury. The purchase was completed in June, 2005. Altoids is now owned by Mars, which acquired Wrigley’s in October 2008.
Callard & Bowser is mourned by many as the finest butterscotch to ever have been made. I couldn’t agree more; remembered candies are the sweetest.
If you’d like to experience a bit of Victorian Christmas this year, you might visit the David Davis Mansion in Bloomington, Indiana. Historical interpreters at this museum are re-creating some late 19th century holiday traditions for their visitors. One might surprise you: Christmas candies in the shape of cockroaches!
Marcia Young of the museum explained to a reporter for the Illinois Times:
“Candy was a big deal to kids. Getting candy only happened on very special occasions,” says Young. For Christmas, Victorians gave them lots of candy in stockings or as gifts. Some of that candy was made to look like items in nature. “This was a time in which a lot of exploration is occurring all over the globe,” Young says. “Victorians are very excited about what they’re finding. They’re fascinated by the natural world, even the smallest parts, like insects.” That fascination inspired their candy-making, so they created [candies] that looked like carrots, lobsters, rabbits, beetles, spiders, and even cockroaches.
Today the Davis Mansion is offering a modern interpretation of those Christmas Cockroaches, made of molded chocolate. But the candies the Davis children received long ago would not likely have been made of chocolate. The museum has a letter received by Sarah Davis that describes a “sugar cockroach” received by a young friend in Massachusetts.
A “sugar cockroach” would be a molded fondant candy, similar to the inside of a Peppermint Patty. Candy corn was invented around the same time; like cockroaches, corn was another of the plants, animals and insects that were popular shapes for the candy of the day (see my article on the history of candy corn at TheAtlantic.com). Now, I wonder why candy corn was so popular, and candy cockroaches just didn’t catch on? And what about candy bedbugs?
Of all the “jazzy” candy bars from the 1920s, this one still seems the most strange. Candy and chicken seem about as far apart as you can get. What were they thinking?
Sperry Candy Company of Milwaukee WI introduced the bar in 1923 with the slogan “Candy Made Good.” Good like candy, but also good like chicken dinner. An ad to the trade explained the reasoning behind the name: “A name which suggests the best of something good to eat, and known to every child.” These children of 1923, I’d love to meet them. Sperry seemed to think that a big roast chicken was the best lure for the kiddie market.
Chicken Dinner originally sold for 10 cents, the high end of the candy piece market. Sperry described it as “an expensive, high grade candy, put up in convenient 10 cent packages.” Neither in the ads nor on the package did they say much about what was actually in the candy bar. The innovation and excitement of Chicken Dinner wasn’t nuts or nougat, it was the name.
Chicken Dinner meant quality and goodness. What it did not mean, at least not directly, was meal replacement. I’ve read in more than one account of candy during the Depression that bars like Chicken Dinner and Denver Sandwich were popular in part because they promised a kind of imaginary substitute for more expensive real meals. Now I’m beginning to doubt that story. For one, both those bars were first marketed before the Depression, so the context of empty pockets and hungry bellies doesn’t explain these names’ origins. Candy bars in this period had all kinds of outlandish names. Choosing to call your candy bar something so unlike candy, but still appealing, seems a great way to get a second look in a crowded field. But more than that: the idea that a candy bar might be contemplated as somehow equivalent to chicken or a sandwich sounds much more like our contemporary “anything goes” food culture.
I suspect a candy bar named “Pizza Dinner” today might not take off the way Chicken Dinner did. It was one of the best selling candy bars in its day, and remained on the market for some 50 years. It wasn’t just that everybody loved a good chicken dinner. And it probably didn’t have too much to do with the bar itself. It was advertising.
In the 1920s, not everyone realized that advertising was the secret to success. Candy bars that were heavily advertised from their inception would go on to bigger and bigger shares (anyone could have realized in the early 1920s that Milky Way and O, Henry! would be the ones to watch). There was no TV in those days. Radio advertising wouldn’t really catch on until the 1930s. So live interactions with the candy-buying public were the only way to get the word out.
Chicken Dinner billboards were a common sight around the land. But Sperry wasn’t just waiting around for potential customers to pass by to see the sign. In 1926, Sperry’s advertising experts came up with the idea of putting Chicken Dinner signs, and big colorful chickens, on automobiles and driving them around cities drumming up excitement. Back up was provided by teams of window trimmers, artists, and even circus clowns. Behind the scenes, Sperry was assigning advertising staff to work permanently in the field to support distribution and sales. This was a new idea; most companies sent their goods off with jobbers who made the distribution rounds in different locations and didn’t stick around to provide marketing support.
The best think about Chicken Dinner besides the name was the chicken cars, which became quite elaborate. Fleets of Chicken Dinner cars or trucks would arrive in town to deliver the candy goods. Here you can see an image from the mid 1930s; here’s a later model. What did people think the first time they saw one?
I’ve always looked at those fancy candy boxes with their lucious chocolates and bon bons and imagined plump ladies lounging on their divans.
So I nearly fainted when I saw this 1926 ad for a different kind of candy box:
The Four Queens: pull the ribbon, and a different “queen” appears. In full length view. In the, ahem, nude.
Clearly this box is not something you’re going to take home to the missus. This is more something for the office, a little hoo-ha with the boys in the executive suite.
Men were eating candy like crazy in the 1920s and 1930s, and from the looks of this box, they didn’t mind mixing their pleasures. Feminist red flag alert: Mouth candy, eye candy, evidently they’re not so far apart.
As in life, in candy. There are winners, and there are losers.
Tootsie Roll was a winner; the Stern & Saalberg Company made millions on those little chewy chocolatish nubs. But 1918, it was time for a new image. And a new product. But this one didn’t catch on in quite the same way.
For reasons I have yet to fathom, cough drops were incredibly popular in the early 1900s. Everybody seemed to be suffering from some ailment, and I suspect that all those ailments provided a handy excuse for sucking on sweet candies. Stern & Saalberg came up with their own entry into the cough drop arena: Lance Cough Drops. “Cut the Cough,” get it?
And since the field was so crowded, they poured money into marketing. These images come from an unprecedented four page color ad spread in the trade magazine Confectioners Journal. Stern & Saalberg also planned national print ads, cards for trolleys and trains, and huge window cards and displays for retailers.
With the first World War still in the air, perhaps the old world associations of the names Stern and Saalberg didn’t fit so well with the ambitions of the company. And by this time, neither Saalberg nor Stern was playing an active role in the company. So the company chose a new name, more bland to be sure, but also more definitely candy-like: The Sweets Company of America.
The name change is announced at the same time as the new cough drops, a sort of marketing double-whammy:
And what I really love is the Camelot theme, an imaginative exposition of the basic knight with lance that stands as the logo of the new candy. The artist conceived not just a few royals, but an entire court:
There is something so excessive and extravagant about all this noise around a simple cough drop. And it seems to be missing the candy trend of the day rather dramatically: what will get everybody excited in the next couple of years is not dowdy cough drops, but the new and surprising combinations of sweet and salty, chewy and smooth, chocolate and fruit and nut that will be the glorious candy bars of the 1920.
A detail: Stern & Saalberg reorganized and changed the name of the company in 1917; this ad and announcement appeared in Confectioners Journal in January 1918.
For more on the early history of Tootsie Roll and Stern & Saalberg, see my related post Tootsie Roll Tragedy: The Real Leo Hirschfeld Story.
If you are a fan of Hershey’s and a history buff, you might know the excellent book by James McMahon called Built on Chocolate: The Story of the Hershey Chocolate Company. This is a lavishly illustrated authorized company history. McMahon is the curator of the Hershey Museum, and he had access to the company archives to reproduce examples of goods and ephemera from every era of Hershey.
But here’s one he didn’t include:
This is a 1906 ad for milk chocolate wafers in a novelty package. The bag looks like a mail bag. But there’s more:
The mail car creates an intriguing display for the individual mail pouches. This is in a period when the idea of retail display is really in its infancy. Hershey had very fancy wrappers for his goods, suggeting that part of his success was in grasping early on the importance of presentation.
Milton Hershey had perfected his milk chocolate formula only a few years before, and began selling the first milk chocolate bars made in America in 1900. Milk chocolate “kisses” would be introduced in 1907. So this 1906 milk chocolate wafer is something in between, an intermediate step between the full-size bars and the foil wrapped kisses. It’s hard to say just how big this mail sack is, but since a milk chocolate bar for eating was sold at 5 cents in 1906, this 10 cent portion must have been substantially more.
This ad appeared in Confectioners Journal in October 1906.
For more on the history of Hershey’s Kisses, see my related posts: