Not so long ago, I wrote in my entry about Huia Cheese “When Lactose Goes” https://longwhitekid.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/when-lactose-goes/ as following: “Sadly, sometimes my attempt to uncover information about a long-lost brand just simply reaches a dead end, before it’s even started”.
Well, this one is really going to make that post look like a novel. What do I know about “Picanniny (sic)” popping corn? Just about nothing. I have searched high and low for any lead, and there’s nada. It looks like American food company Conagra (Peter Pan Peanut Butter, Reddi-whip, Banquet Dinners, Chef Boyardee etc) registered some trademarks here for popping corn but there is no further information as to dates or really anything that makes my antenna go up as to a relation.
I feel quite confident in saying that this product was not from the U.S., for Americans would not make two spelling errors in the word “Pickaninny”. Nor would they have tolerated such a grossly racist and offensive stereotype so late in the game – I stole this from the family kitchen in the late 1980s and I remember it was available at Foodtown supermarkets back to the 1970s. The design looks mid 1960s. I do remember that the packet was a thin clear plastic and how the colours were laid out more or less, which I have reproduced to the best of my ability. In fact “Picanniny” seems to be a particularly Australasian corruption of the word and Papers Past contained several images of Maori children labelled as such.
Auckland Star, 15 November 1897, page 3
I also found this; a Bycroft biscuit brand which I am sure is no relation yet it is spelled in the exactly same strange way. It seems, however, that “Picanniny Biscuits” didn’t actually stand the test of time as claimed since they were advertised for two years and seemingly disappeared after 1898; just a drop in the 90 year long history of that company’s life which ended with the birth of the heritage movement in NZ via the demolition of Partington’s Mill (you win some, you lose some).
I recreated the graphic from a very shoddy copy on acetate, that I’d made twenty years ago obviously intending at some time do something with it …back in the olden days when I used to do everything by projector. I assumed I had probably kept the original packet but I haven’t seen it around last I sorted through my archives. There’s a chance I have and there may be some more information as to the manufacturer, but I think I probably just cut out the front panel. I won’t gripe again regarding lack of newspaper records post 1945, and just say C’est la vie, instead.
Update, late March 2015: I suspect that I may be onto something as far as Picanniny popping corn’s origins. As I theorised, I felt it probably was a Kiwi brand even though it was very American in appearance.
A few months back, this tin can for Fun brand popping corn appeared online. It was made by Fla-Va-Tru, a company originally based in Masterton that I’ve been aware of for a number of years.
They were most well-known for a host of exotically-named food flavouring essences from the early 1940s onwards, as well as chop suey sauce, icing sugar, maple syrup, and milkshake flavourings.
This is probably the earliest example I’ve seen of DIY popping corn. In the 1940s-1950s there were brands like Hi-Pop, Onehunga Popcorn, and Bango but these ones all appear to be pre-popped, most likely for cinema consumption.
It’s the graphics of the can that convince me there’s a connection – both style and colour convey that there is a relation between Fun and Picanniny. Well, I can see it anyway.