Rarity, popularity, sentimentality – these are at the heart of what make items collectible. As companies seek to become more inclusive, some are changing their brands and logos, providing collectors with an opportunity to take what’s common today and preserve it as a piece of history.
There have been announcements over the last few months that several familiar company logos will be joining “Mia,” the Land O’ Lakes’ indigenous icon, in the dusty morgues of advertising history.
Companies have become extremely sensitive to criticism of their brands’ images in light of the protests and civil unrest in the US of the last several months, and a number have begun reviewing their policies, their standards, and how they are perceived by the public.
All the brands mentioned in this article have been around for half a century and more, so they already have substantial track records in the collectibles markets. As a dealer or collector of advertising or Black memorabilia, you can’t help but recognize the opportunities afforded by what will amount to an end to supply.
Of course, future prices will be determined by the actual number of collectors seeking material versus the amount of material that will be preserved – not everyone is aware of the impending changes – but even if all you want to do is save some examples for your own collection, you’ve been forewarned.
Created by the Pearl Milling Company (St. Joseph, Missouri) in 1888 as a generically named “Self-Rising Pancake Flour,” the Aunt Jemima logo was added in 1889 to differentiate the product from others on the market. Davis Milling (also of St. Joseph) bought Pearl in 1890, and refined the recipe so that only water was needed to create the batter.
By 1914, the product was so successful that Davis changed its name to Aunt Jemima Mills and in 1915 initiated a lawsuit against one of its competitors that led to the “Aunt Jemima Doctrine” of trademark law protection.
Quaker Oats acquired Aunt Jemima in 1924, and over the near century of its ownership, the logo has undergone a number of updates and makeovers, but it appears that this is the end of the line for one of the oldest logos in American advertising.
Collectors have long prized the premiums and merchandise associated with the logo, from paper dolls, rag dolls, and booklets to cookie jars, syrup bottles, and branded tins and pitchers, as evidenced by such recent online auction results as a 1983 branded tin ($68/26 bids), a late 1940s, 18-page recipe booklet ($83.71/17 bids), and a 1940s McCoy Aunt Jemima cookie jar ($1691/72 bids).
Collectible Aunt Jemima: Handbook and Value Guide, by Jean Williams Turner (via Amazon.com)
Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima, by Maurice M. Manring (via Amazon.com)
Aunt Jemima Brand to Remove Image from Packaging and Change Brand Name (PR Newswire) – The original press release.
Fact Check: Aunt Jemima Model Nancy Green Didn’t Create the Brand (USA Today)
Introduced as “Original Converted Brand Rice” in 1943, the product was a joint venture by German-born scientist Erich Huzenlaub and American businessman Forrest Mars, Sr.
While in London, where he’d become a British citizen, Huzenlaub’s company Converted Rice, Ltd had developed a process for parboiling (converting) rice to preserve more of its nutrients. Still referred to as “The Huzenlaub Process,” it had the added benefits of shortening cooking time and creating a resistance to weevil infestation. Mars assisted Huzenlaub in obtaining the funding necessary to expand the business in Britain and to the U.S., as Converted Rice, Inc., in exchange for part ownership of the patent.
During World War II, the company’s entire output was devoted to the Allied armed forces, but by 1947 the product was rebranded as “Uncle Ben’s Original Converted Brand Rice” for the consumer market.
No one is quite certain whether “Uncle Ben” referred to a real person – one story is that he was an African-American farmer known for the quality of his rice – but the image on the box is believed to be that of a Chicago maître d’hôtel named Frank Brown.
The most popular Uncle Ben’s collectibles at present appear to be the tins in which the rice was often sold. Lithographed with a variety of colorful designs – most often bearing an image of Uncle Ben – many of the tins are fetching prices up to $50+.
Mars Food Announces the Uncle Ben’s Brand Will Change Its Name to Ben’s Original (Mars.com) – Press release.
Uncle Ben’s Has a New Name: Ben’s Original (CTV News) – Provides some interesting background.
Danish immigrant Christian Kent Nelson was 27 when he invented the Eskimo Pie in 1920. A high-school teacher in Onawa, Iowa, Nelson also ran a confectionary shop near the school where he worked. The story goes that he was inspired by watching a young boy in his shop who had a difficult time deciding whether to spend his nickel on ice cream or chocolate. After experimenting with a number of chocolate coatings, Kent produced 500 hand-made “I-Scream Bars” that were an immediate hit at a town picnic.
His search for a manufacturer resulted in a partnership with candy maker Russell C. Stover in 1921, when it was agreed that the name of the bars would be changed to “Eskimo Pie.”
By the end of 1922, Stover had sold his share of the company, the bars were being wrapped in foil supplied by the United State Foil Company (later known as Reynolds Metals, makers of Reynolds Wrap), and Nelson was making $2000 per day in royalties.
As costs, especially for patent protection and trademark litigation, began to mount, Nelson sold the company in 1924 to U.S. Foil. Nelson retired in 1929, but rejoined Eskimo Pie in 1935 where he worked on a number of new products and machines until he retired permanently in 1961.
Eskimo Pie remained a subsidiary of Reynolds Metals until 1992 (the same year Nelson passed away), when it was spun off. The company was eventually acquired by Dreyers in 2007, and it was Dreyers that announced the proposed change to the Eskimo Pie name in September of this year.
Though the brand lacks the variety of premiums and merchandise associated with, say, Aunt Jemima or Mrs. Butterworth’s, it manages to generate interest among collectors to the (recent) tune of $14.00+ for a simple 1970s plush doll (after 11 bids) and $186.99 for a 1957 porcelain advertising sign (44 bids). But beware of reproductions! Many advertising signs for this and other brands have been easily reproduced by the thousands, so know what you are buying!
Eskimo Pie Coolers (JustCollecting) – Just in case you come across one of these.
The Eskimo Pie Corporation History and Records, 1921-1996, National Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institution) – Includes links to documents and photographs such as this one of a thermal jug with dry ice that somewhat resembles a Dalek from an early Dr. Who.
Eskimo Pie to Become Edy’s Pie in 2021 (Food Dive)
Cream of Wheat
Originally manufactured by the Diamond Flour Mill of Grand Forks, North Dakota, Cream of Wheat made its debut in 1893, quickly becoming one of the country’s most popular hot breakfast cereals. (It’s actually a porridge made of farina, a finely-milled form of wheat).
Sold to the National Biscuit Co. (Nabisco) in 1962, Kraft acquired Cream of Wheat in its 2000 merger with Nabisco, and then sold the brand to B&G Foods in 2007.
Collectors of Cream-of-Wheat memorabilia have a variety of merchandise from which to shop, from thermometers to dolls (a 1930s-era Rastus doll recently garnered a final bid of $162.50) to original boxes, but serious collectors are especially interested in the company’s early magazine ads, many of which were drawn by noted illustrators of the period, including N. C. Wyeth, Henry Hutt, and J. C. Leyendecker.
The Nabisco Brands Collection of Cream of Wheat: Advertising Art, by David Stivers (via Amazon.com)
About Us (Cream of Wheat) – Scroll through a series of vintage magazine ads by famous illustrators.
Cream of Wheat Chef Will Be Removed from Packaging, B&G Says (Food Dive)
Introduced in 1961 by Pinnacle Foods (now a subsidiary of ConAgra), Mrs. Butterworth’s pancake syrup is one of the “newer” brands which may be forced to undergo a makeover.
Television ad campaigns have been distinguished by the apparent ability of Mrs. Butterworth to carry on conversations with those about to enjoy pouring her all over their pancakes And judging from recent online auction results, collectors are enjoying Mrs. Butterworth, too, especially all those brown glass bottles. Recent online auction results reveal multiple examples of bottles from the 1960s and 1970s (the era before barcodes), both empty and still sealed selling for $50 to $100+ after very heavy bidding.
ConAgra Brands Announces Mrs. Butterworth’s Brand Review (ConAgra Brands) – Press release.
Mrs. Butterworth Throughout the Years (YouTube) – To us she sounds rather like a New England grandmother.