Posts tagged ‘Necco’

150 year old candy hidden in Harvard Depository

Amazing find… in the Harvard Depository is a box, and in the box are samples of  candy lozenges produced by Boston candy-maker Fobes & Hayward, way back sometime around 1870.

I have not actually seen this candy in person. I was at Harvard to look at a book, the NCA’s 1907 report on candy poisoning allegations called “Facts,” only one copy of which exists. It was totally worth the trip.

And then, poking around in the Business Library Historical Collection, I stumbled on a reference to a box containing “lozenges and labels” associated with business records of Ball & Fobes (which became Fobes & Hayward, which merged with a couple of others to become NECCO). Alas, the box was off-site in the depository, and I only was there for the day, so I couldn’t actually look in the box. But by a stroke of good luck, the very helpful reference librarians were able to track down pictures of the contents.

Amazing! They are pale pinkish and brownish flat opaque disks. The substance looks like Necco Wafers, chalky and dry. These style lozenges were the forerunners to our wafers. The shape is obviously machine made. They are round with scalloped edges. Each is stamped with a cameo-like bas relief. The detail on the images I looked at is murky, but they appear to be animal and classical type scenes; one looks like a woman holding a vase or urn, another looks like maybe a deer. I can’t tell what size these are, there is no scale reference.

Dating the lozenges: There are several labels that are in the same collection. It is impossible to know whether they are contemporaneous with the lozenge candies, but assuming they are, they provide some clues to dating. The labels read “Fobes & Hayward.” The puts the date after 1865, when when Ball & Fobes became Fobes & Hayward. The labels are for lozenges, comfits, and sugared cardamom and flagroot. These are candies that lean more toward the early nineteenth century than towards the developments of the 1880s. So I think it is unlikely that these lozenges are older that 1880, and I’d be comfortable putting them closer to 1870.

I can’t wait for my next trip up to Boston. I really want to see that box, and put my hands on, or at least near, such an amazing piece of candy history.

November 15, 2011 at 8:35 am 2 comments

The Beginning of Candy

Well, not the beginning of candy for all time. Let’s say, the beginning of the American candy industry.

1847. That’s the year Oliver Chase, a Boston druggist, came up with the idea of a machine to speed up the making of medicinal lozenges. There’s more about Chase and the invention of the lozenge machine in my first post on Oliver Chase here.

I come back to Chase today because I just recently found an image of what a “Chase lozenge” might have actually looked like:


This is an ad for the New England Confectionery Company, the inheritor of Oliver Chase’s original business. Today we assume that the Necco Wafer is essentially the same candy as Chase’s original lozenge. That’s what I thought, until I was this image.

Here we see that the Chase Lozenge was thicker than Necco Wafers. Also, in this ad, Necco lists “lozenges” separately from “wafers,” indicating that they are not the same goods.

The “Chase Lozenge” was still in the Necco line up in 1921, the year this ad was published. Necco had patented the name “Chase” and the logo with the big “C” for this candy, which tells us that they were worried about imitators who would try to profit by making similar lozenges and passing them off as “Chase” originals.

The Chase Lozenge is basically sugar paste: powdered sugar kneaded with gum arabic or gum tragcath (both edible binders) that could be molded like clay and then dried. Confectionery made of sugar paste would keep indefinitely.

So why would a druggist be messing around with lozenges, anyway? Oliver Chase, like all nineteenth century druggists, was familiar with the uses of sugar to make the medicine go down. I learned from Laura Mason’s book Sugar Plums and Sherbet about what sort of lozenges apothecaries might make in the nineteenth century. She explains that sugar paste in particular was a valuable medium for apothecaries working with only basic implements because the drug could be mixed in to the paste and the lozenges cut to regular size.  The advantage to these medicinal lozenges was that they would deliver a reasonably accurate dose, and that the medicine would be released slowly as the lozenge dissolved.

Chase was probably not the first to leave out the drugs and sell the lozenges as candy. But once the use of machinery started speeding up the process of making lozenges, they took off.  By 1890, one candy-making manual explained that machinery had transformed the making of lozenges:

Twenty years ago, lozenges were mixed and cut by journeymen confectioners…within the last few years, machinery  has been introduced which mixes, rolls, stamps and cuts, all the manual labor that is required is simply a superintendent..turning out many hundredweights a day.

I’ve seen countless variations and brands of lozenges and wafers advertised in the early 1900s. Kids would eat them in rolls, and grown ups would pass them around in the candy dish. We still have Necco Wafers today. And we still have something a lot like the Chase Lozenge.

These are just called “pink lozenges.’ I don’t see them around much. But if you find this candy, eat some and imagine you’re back in 1847.

Sources: Chase Lozenge ad appeared in Confectioners Journal Nov. 1921. Skuse’s The Confectioners Handbook (1890) is quoted in Laura Mason, Sugar Plums and Sherbet: The Prehistory of Sweets (1998), p. 148. You can shop for pink lozenges and other old fashioned candies at End of the Commons.

May 26, 2010 at 10:04 am 3 comments

Oliver Chase and Necco Wafers: Where It All Began

In 1847 in a small drug store in Boston, Oliver R. Chase turned the crank on his latest invention, a device that would press and cut candy lozenges. As the machine-cut sweets emerged from the press, the modern world of candy was born.

The lozenge cutter probably wasn’t much to look at, just a small table-top, hand operated machine, similar to a large pasta maker. Chase could not have known as he watched the first batch of opaque disks emerge from the machine that he was changing candy forever. The lozenge cutter was the first candy-making machine. Out of that little device arose the American candy industry, and the commercial manufacture of candies on larger and larger scales.

Oliver Chase wasn’t really in the candy business. He was a pharmacist. But in the nineteeth century, if you wanted something candy-ish, the pharmacy was the place to go. Pharmacists had for centuries been using sugar to “make the medicine go down.” Sugar disguised the often bitter or unpleasant tastes of medicinal herbs and compounds. And for many maladies, sugar itself was viewed as a beneficial drug. Chase’s first “lozenges” were sold to soothe the throat or to settle the stomach. The line between “drug” and “candy” was, in those days, pretty fuzzy.  (Come to think of it, we’re still a little worried about the “drug”-like qualities of candy, but that’s for another day…)

If you’re wondering what that 1847 lozenge might have tasted like, it’s easy to find out. Just run down to the store and buy a roll of NECCO Wafers. These chalky candies seem peculiar today, but in the late nineteenth century many similar candies were made and sold, and they were very popular. Chase was making basically the same recipe in his pharmacy; once he could automate the cutting of the pasty dough, his production took off, and with in a few years he had a flourishing candy business, Chase and Company, the first in a group of companies that would come together as the New England Confectionery Company, or NECCO.

More: Michael Nusair, who took the fabulous photo at the top of this entry, reviews NECCO Wafers at candyrageous.com

October 2, 2009 at 7:36 am 6 comments

Poets and Candymakers: Louis Untermeyer

Louis UntermeyerCandy has no doubt inspired plenty of poetry. While I can’t think of any particular odes to candy’s beauty, a candy dish surely must have fueled many a fire of poetic stamina. And as it turns out, one of the U.S.’s most beloved and influential poets of the twentieth century was a candy lover too.

Louis Untermeyer will be known to any college English major as the editor of numerous anthologies of English and American poetry used in classrooms across the country. He was also a poet, essayist, and literary personality in his own right, publishing over 100 books and anthologies.

Untermeyer lived from 1885 to 1977, nearly a century. Those were the decades when America set its claim to be a “nation of candy eaters,” decades of candy passion on the part of ordinary people, met with incredible variety, creativity, and deliciousness in the candy industry. A poet and a candy enthusiast, he was the perfect choice to write the book on candy at mid-century. In fact, had Untermeyer’s poetic ambitions been less successful, he might have found a career in the candy business:

Being born with the proverbial sweet tooth, I have always found myself lingering in the vicinity of some candy store or other. … Sweets have always changed my disposition and altered my metabolism for the better. As the sugared flavors trickle past my palate, my heart leaps up, the blood courses with a livelier rhythm and my pulse beats with a happier throb. … I have never outgrown my youthful dream of working as chief sampler in a candy factory. (9)

Untermeyer’s book is called: A Century of Candymaking, 1847-1947: The Story of the Origin and Growth of the New England Confectionery Company Which Parallels that of the Candy Industry in America. Published in 1947, the volume marked the centenary anniversary of the invention of the first candy making machine in America: the lozenge-cutting machine, invented by Oliver Chase. Chase’s little candy enterprise would eventually grow into the New England Confectionery Company, one of the biggest and most important candy companies of the twentieth century.

The book was commissioned by the New England Confectionery Company as an official corporate history. The volume includes Untermeyer’s essay, illustrative color plates, a pictorial “trip through the modern factory,” maps of Boston’s historic candy sites and of the global origins of candy ingredients, and a chronology of major candy events from 1847 to 1947. Given the absence of any scholarly or popular history of the candy business in this period, A Century of Candymaking is, all in all, a quite useful little book.

It was not entirely Untermeyer’s work. Historian Marion F.Lansing did all the research and collecting, as Untermeyer acknowledges. But Untermeyer wrote the text. His unique voice and his boyish love of candy bring the stories of American candy heroes to life. There are such notables as Oliver Chase, of the famous lozenge machine; Daniel Fobes, who patented “mocha” in 1867; and Abner Moody, who used his whittling skills to carve fantastical novelty candy molds in the 1870s.

The best of the writing is a Valentine to the candy itself: Gibralters and Pralines and motto wafers and the boggling “array of color, perfection of shape and variety of flavors” that fascinated at the candy shop. Untermeyer indulges his nostalgia for the good old days when he would run to the candy shop, nickel in hand, and while away the afternoon imagining the possibilities. Candy shops, and candies, alas long gone. We’re fortunate to have A Century of Candymaking to show us what’s been lost.

September 21, 2009 at 6:50 am 2 comments


Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Welcome to Candy Professor

Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

(C) Samira Kawash

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