Posts tagged ‘wafers’

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

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


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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