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Nabisco: Snackin' & Collectin'

By Susan Eberman

April 1999

Nabisco offers a variety in collecting just as it does in snacking.

Collectors in many fields from tins to toys eagerly join Nabisco collectors in searching for desirable pieces from this company that as been a part of American kitchens for almost a century.

In the 1890s several hundred regional baking companies obtained the legal services of Chicago attorney Adolphus W. Green to assist them with merging into one company. He selected National Biscuit Company as the name of the newly formed company because the products would be sold throughout the United States and he thought "biscuit" gave a better image than "cracker." In 1898, when the new company began, local grocers often sold cookies and crackers by the scoopful from bins. These country store pieces are now prized by collectors. A one-bin, National Biscuit Company glass-front store counter display is worth $150. Used for measuring cookies or crackers from a store bin, a glass embossed "National Biscuit CompanyŚ5 cents a glass" has a value of $150. (All National Biscuit Company glasses are scoops; the company never made a beverage.) The Uneeda Milk Biscuit Dutch Girl appears twice on the china scoop, marked Warwick, that has a $250 value. Other products sold in tins with graphics designed to increase sales. Bremner's was one of the companies that formed Nabisco and a colorful tin from their Ramona cookies has a current value of $250.

Around the turn of the century, Americans were becoming more aware about the spread of disease through unsanitary food serving customs, such as dirty hands and containers in stores. Green also noticed that if storekeepers located bins near kerosene stoves, the baked products soon picked up the taste of these unappetizing fumes. A cupful of soggy cookies from an old barrel was not what Americans wanted to buy. Green employed the N. W. Ayer ad agency in Chicago to help with product development so National Biscuit products could be sold in sanitary individual packages with a shelf life of one year. It was this company that devised the box, triple-wrapped in cellophane, with the company's first trademark, Inner-Seal.

An Ayer executive took his five-year-old nephew, Gordon Stille, to a photographer where the lad posed for pictures wearing a yellow slicker and carrying a box of biscuits under his arm. After being placed on packages and in ads for Uneeda Biscuits, his "slicker boy" image became the most widely known advertising figure for several decades. More than 100 million boxes of Uneeda Biscuits were sold in 1900 alone, and much of this success is credited to the Uneeda Biscuit boy. Full-page magazine ads with his image retail for $10-$30, depending on condition and framing. A 3-inch china scoop with the Uneeda boy and a metal letter opener with the same image, both circa 1920, are now valued at $50 each.

Ideal Toy Corporation made several sizes of composition dolls featuring this popular boy from 1914 until 1930. A 16-inch Uneeda Kid, also known as Slicker Boy, with its original box and the biscuit box in the doll's hand is worth $2,00). The same doll, minus packaging and the doll's box, brought $850 at a 1996 auction. (Uneeda Doll Company never made these dolls; all Uneeda Kid dolls are marked Ideal.)

In the early 1900s Uneeda Biscuits were quickly followed by Oysterettes, Zu Zu Ginger Snaps, Fig Newtons, Sugar Wafers and Barnum's Animal Crackers. An original Oysterettes box, with the triple seal unopened, has a $95 value.

Trolleys were a popular mode of transportation during the 1920s, and National Biscuit Company always looked for new ways to advertise. Beautiful graphics highlight the large number of trolley car cards made. Since few survived, prices for these colorful signs begin at $150. A NBC bread sign in near-mint condition is valued at $300.

During the 1930s, two desirable toys never sold to the public were awarded as sales incentives. A horse and wagon lithographed tin pull toy has a tin wagon top and bottom with wooden wheels and a wooden horse with moveable tin legs. One thousand dollars is its current value. A double-bottom trailer truck has two trailers with wooden cab doors that open. The trailers came with wood packages with paper labels, complete with of official logos on the ends. This toy in pristine condition sold at a 1994 auction for $2,100. The boxes in mint condition are worth $100 each. Another very desirable toy was sold to the public much later. During the 1980s, Lionel made 300 sets of a Nabisco train with 14 cars available. In 1994, a mint example of this complete set sold at auction for $2,300.

Jessie Willcox Smith, N. C. Wyeth and James Montgomery Flagg are among the talented artists who produced monthly full-page Cream of Wheat ads for Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post and other popular magazines at the turn of the century. Hundreds of different ads exist,and many feature the highly collectible black chef. These ads retail for $20-$50, depending on condition and framing.

In 1914 strings were added to small cookie boxes and families were encouraged to hang them on the Christmas tree. These colorful boxes have become a popular collectible, probably because most American children remember eating the shaped snacks and playing with the boxes before throwing them away. Current values for near mint boxes from the 1920s include $150 for Barnum's Animals, $200 for Clown, $200 for Log Cabin Brownies, and $300 for Salt Fish Pretzels. Mickey Mouse, circa 1940, is valued at $1,200. From the 1950s, Cowboys and Indians is worth $150. In 1982, 10 SuperHeroes cookie boxes were sold: Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Aquaman, Shazam, Joker, Penguin and Riddler. A complete mint set of the 10 different boxes offered is valued at $1,000. Fifteen different boxes of SuperGirl Cookies were available in 1984; each mint box is now worth $50. Currently, Barnum's Animal Crackers is offering a Zoo Collection with a free zoo pass on the package. This collection is expected to escalate in value as soon as they are no longer available at the retail level.

National Biscuit Company, known as N.B.C., changed its name to Nabisco in the early 1940s to avoid confusion with the television network. Always a big advertiser, Nabisco sponsored many popular radio and television shows. Dinah Shore and Arthur Godfrey were company spokesmen first on radio and then television.

The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin was on ABC from 1954-1959, with Nabisco as an active sponsor. Thousands of children obtained an official Rin Tin Tin club membership kit from Nabisco in 1954, but few kits survived. Four hundred dollars is the value for a complete, near-mint kit with fabric banner, membership card and white metal badge. When available separately in mint condition, the banner is worth $200, the card $50 and the badge $75. Nabisco Shredded Wheat cereal had an offer for a Rin Tin Tin rifle black plastic ballpoint pen on its carton from 1954-1956. This pen in its original cardboard mailer sold for $140 at a 1997 auction. A 1954 Nabisco"Wonda-Scope," which includes compass, mirror and magnifying lenses with Rin Tin Tin marked on the dial, is valued at $75 in mint condition. "Bugle Calls" is the title of a vinyl cardboard record that came with a plastic bugle premium when Nabisco issued it in 1954; $40 is its current worth in mint condition. A 1955 cast photo issued by Nabisco is worth $25 if mint. Twelve Rusty and Rin Tin Tin palm puzzles from Nabisco Juniors in 1956 are worth $15 each.

In the mid 1980s Nabisco became RJR Nabisco, after being purchased by R. J. Reynolds. The ads kept coming. Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon did ads for the 75th anniversary of Oreos in 1987. Andy Griffith and Shirley Jones preferred Ritz crackers, while Sandy Duncan munched on Wheat Thins. Walter "Fridge" Perry liked all Nabisco snacks. A Christmas 1996 store display featured John Madden. Store standup displays for celebrities average about $75 each in near-mint condition, while full-page magazine ads showing celebrity endorsements retail for $5-$10 each.

Watches are another "timely" Nabisco collectible. Issued in 1969, A Ritz Swiss movement watch now sells for $450, while the 1990 quartz movement Oreo watch brings $100.

Whatever your taste, Nabisco can please your collection as well as your taste buds.

© 2002 Mountain States Collector

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