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Cracker Jack, Licorice Jack And Other Troublesome Varieties
Cracker Jack, Established 1896
Do You Like Cracker Jacks and Their Enclosed Toys?
The Hub Question was asked about the first toy packed into a Cracker Jack box.This brought back memories, including the old joke,
"Where'd you get your degree - in a Cracker Jack box?"
Capitalism and the practice of attracting buyers of goods and services with "premiums": and other advertising promotions will likely always be a cause for discussion in a country that supports commercial enterprise.
Toys and other "premiums" - some not so premium, however - have been given away with product sales for decades in America. I can think of many -
- Toys at the shoe store in a treasure chest sitting by the fluoroscope machine. We would stick our feet inside the bottom of the machine, look at the bones via a veiwing device on the top of the machine, buy a pair of shoes, and be allowed to help ourselves to a toy. These were usually whistles on a key chain, a bag of marbles, a set of jacks and a rubber ball, and other games of the day.
- In the 1930s, gas station began to give away drinking glasses with every purchase of gasoline. Glasses of this sort began to appear in laundry detergent boxes in the 1950s and 1960s.
- How about the 1960s and Dolly Parton on the old Porter Waggoner Show? I felt bad because she had to do the commercials for Breeze detergent, with their giveaway towels inside - "You cain't buy 'em!" Even as a child, I was glad to see her get away from that gig! She did not look as if she was having fun.
- Some magic Decoder Rings appeared in cereal boxes around World War II or before, to go along with radio and its 15-minute action/adventure and mystery shows.I don't know the drill back then, but by the 1970s in my region, kids cried for the cereals in the store until parents purchased it, then took home the boxes, opened them, upended them on the kitchen table, extracted the rings or whatever other toy was inside, and refused to eat the cereal. That is not "premium" value at all to parents on a budget.
- Bazooka Bubble Gum -- It seems like that company packed comic strips into their gum beginning about 1776, but I know the company wasn't around then. People chewed paraffin before there was chewing gum.
- Banks - They started giving away toasters with new savings account in the 1970s and stopped doing it in the 1970s.
- Car Dealerships - In the mid to late 1980s, I went with a male cousin to look at automobiles. The salesman that spoke with my cousin did not speak to me, but handed me a very cheaply manufactured and printed cookbook. I threw it on the desk and my friend bought a car elsewhere. Not a premium car dealership, that.
Some of the toys in Cracker Jack were not worth much monetarily, but some of them were at least entertaining for a time. Today, catalogs are published for collectors of these toys.
For a short time, Crack Jack company also made "Licorice Jack." The box was the same size, but white, with a black combined silhouette of an African native standing or dancing in front of a hut and palm tree.
Explosive Taste and Name
The origin of the name "Cracker Jack" is not clear to me in university libraries, corporate explanations, Internet files or food history materials.
I have seen the term crackerjack used in literature published prior to the naming of the packaged popcorn and peanut treat, however, so I think it must be related to explosives used in mining in the 1800s or something to do with expert marksman of early US Army ranks or guerrillas under Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox.
Of course, popcorn seems to explode in the pan or popper, so that may be a related story.
Webster's dictionaries show that the word cracker used as an adjective for superior was recorded as first used in 1793. Since this was the Revolution and New Nation time period, it probably referred to the expert crack shots in the American Army. Exploding gunpowder comes into play in that reference.
If "jack" refers to the Union Jack of the English flag, then a crackerjack could be a colonist that felled a British soldier in the Revolution...just a guess.
Here's an interesting dictionary notation: "1890-95, Americanism; earlier crackajack, rhyming compound based on crack (adj.); -a- as in 'blackamoor; jack' in sense 'chap, fellow' " [Reference: Random House Dictionary]. -- Except, "blackamoor" is a slur for a black African. Thus, "Licorice Jack" was only a more visible slur than an old meaning of "Cracker Jack."
First Prizes and Toys - Three Sets of Cards
It seems that no one at Cracker Jack owned now by Frito Lay® remembers what the first toys in the boxes were. Collectors do remember that baseball cards for a now-defunct Federal League were some of the first to be offered.
The original company was founded in Chicago in 1893 for the World's Fair. In 1907, a set of 16 entertaining post cards could be collected if one bought enough Cracker Jack boxes. Baseball cards were issued in 1914 - 1915 (players like Stuffy McInnis and the famous Connie Mack). During WWI, cards containing riddles appeared.
After WWI, toys appeared. Some of the first included a cardboard boy with a movable arm showing he could eat Cracker Jack. Another was a cardboard baseball score keeper and a third was a series of standup cartoon animals.
In 1910, coupons were packed into the boxes and were good for prizes through the mail. In 1912, actual small toys were packed - magnifying glasses, comics, rings, charms, and others. Some collectors remember the baseball cards best, however.
The Caracker Jack Baseball Players
- 1914 Cracker Jack Baseball Card Checklist
- Cracker Jack 1915 Baseball Card Values
Wondering what your 1915 Cracker Jack Baseball cards are worth? Hobbizine Vintage Baseball Card Value Guides list prices in five grades from Good to Mint. They also have useful information on baseball card collecting, factors that drive card values,
COSI Columbus, The Center of Science and Industry, once displayed treats and toys from the early 1900s in a Street of Yesteryear. I saw all this when I took a class of GED students to COSI in the mid 1990s. The exhibit is named Progress today and takes visitors through a town from 1898 - 1962. It includes Cracker Jack premiums.
Blatantly displayed in the front of a showcase was one of the early white boxes used by Cracker Jack, prepared in white and black. The black silhouette figure of an African native and a hut on the front of the box, with the name Licorice Jack were considered "cute" at the time of manufacture. So was the story Little Black Sambo, a Golden Book which was also displayed with other kids' books. How insulting or offensive are these images today?
Instead of molasses, licorice candy was used as a coating for popcorn and peanuts in Licorice Jack. There is no longer any history of this product to be found anywhere, but someone probably still has a box at home to show friends. This reinforces the truth that all the history there is to know is not on the Internet.
Rerun Of Dark Flavors
Rerun Of Less Friendly Cracker Jack Varieties
Frito-Lay company tried a new line of Cracker Jack products called Cracker Jack'd in the 2010s.
Instead of Licorice Jack in a box with an African native on the front, one variety had a large dose of caffeine added by two tablespoons of ground coffee added to the mix. Thus, the rerun was still dark, but java instead of licorice.
Another type featured spicy pizza flavors. Buffalo hot wings influenced another variety. The bags of treats are black, with a ghostly outline of the Crack Jack sailor and his mascot dog.
Prices Rising On Cracker Jack
Original Cracker Jack is more expensive today, proportionately, than in the 1960s of my memory.
Candy and treats were packed into smaller boxes at the same price at first, in order to increase company profits. Then the bags, candy bars, and treat boxes became smaller, while the prices increased. The same thing has happened with canned vegetables and coffee.
Couponing is becoming more difficult as well. Most coupons these days require the purchase of 2, 3, 10 or more of an item to receive a discount. Until about 1990, 1 item was enough and more stores offered double and triple coupon values. Today, you might find a 10-cent-off coupon for Cracker Jack. The prizes are not so much fun as the prizes of old.
For some fun at the store, what kind of prize would you like to see in a Cracker Jack box?
Prizes For Real
What kind of prize might you like to see in Cracker Jacks?
© 2012 Patty Inglish