by Lori Verderame, Ph.D.
Do you remember the lazy days of summer when you were a kid? You played croquet in the backyard with the rest of the neighborhood gang, frolicked in the lawn sprinkler, or went to the ballpark to take in a baseball game. Snacks were part of the summer fun and a popular snack food was Cracker Jack, the candy coated popcorn and peanut snack.
An early form of Cracker Jack was first sold at the World’s Fair in Chicago, also known as the World Columbian Exposition, in 1893. By 1896, the popcorn and peanut snack was perfected and sold by the Rueckheim Bros. & Eckstein Company. While the delightful snack became a well-known American treat, it became associated with the American past time, the game of baseball. In 1908, Cracker Jack was highlighted in the tune, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” written by Jack Norworth urging sports fans to “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack!” The game, the song, and the snack became synonymous with America in the early decades of the 20th Century.
While the yummy mixture was enjoyable, it was the introduction of the Cracker Jack toy that solidified Cracker Jack’s place in American culture.
Back in the day, Cracker Jack toys or prizes were included in every single box sold. The idea of placing a toy prize in the Cracker Jack box had actually been a continuation of an earlier promotional campaign where sellers handed buyers a prize when purchasing a box of Cracker Jack. The idea of putting the toys into each box didn’t come to pass until 1912.
The toy prizes ran the gamut from decoder rings to plastic charms. Some of the prizes were tin lithographed sundials, penny banks, mini magnifying glass, paper dolls, tops, alphabet charms, celluloid on metal pin backs, lithographed metal clickers, miniature booklets, doll house cutlery sets and the list goes on. Cracker Jack even distributed baseball cards in a set of 144 cards at the outset of World War I. The entire set of Cracker Jack baseball cards command $100,000 on the collectibles market today.
While most collectors don’t have the highly sought after Cracker Jack baseball cards, many people still retain a few of those miniature Cracker Jack toy prizes. Many collectors kept the little toy prizes and displayed them in shadowboxes or traded them with their friends. Some Cracker Jack afficionados embroidered the small charms onto beanie caps, hats or framed pieces of velvet in the shape of a Christmas tree. And, for the crafty child, Cracker Jack toys were molded into decorative ceramic planters and glued onto wooden jewelry boxes. These objects are highly sought after in today’s repurposing antiques marketplace with values ranging from $250 to $1000.
Most Cracker Jack toys dating from the early 1900s are unmarked. Cracker Jack toys ran the gamut such as gumball trinkets, copper charms, 3-D dioramas, plastic rocking horse charms, miniature pot metal race cars, celluloid soldier figurines, or paper prizes. German toy makers were the source for most early Cracker Jack toys. Particular Cracker Jack toys sell today to collectors for between $5 and $25 each depending on condition, type, and age.
Today, Cracker Jack is owned by Frito-Lay. Unfortunately, the prizes are not what they used to be. Most contemporary Cracker Jack toys are simple paper prizes such as optical illusion drawings or printed mind-teaser riddles.
In 2004, when the New York Yankees baseball club tried to replace Cracker Jack at their stadium concession stands with a similar peanut and popcorn snack product, the public forced club management to return to selling Cracker Jack at Yankee Stadium. The team listened to their fans and returned to selling Cracker Jack. Some things should never change.
Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, award-winning TV personality, and TV talk show host, Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide. Visit www.DrLoriV.com/Events, Lori Verderame on Google+, www.facebook.com/doctorlori or call (888) 431-1010.
(Photo credit: http://www.DrLoriV.com)