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Archive for March, 2013|Monthly archive page

A Dated Pastime

In Bliss detergent, Card games, Coopers Fresh Aire, Crest Fine Foods, D H Brown & Son Ltd, Foodstuffs (NZ) Ltd, Four Square, Four Square Supermarkets, Games, Gregg & Co, Gregg's, Grocery Archaeology, Lushus Jelly, Marmite, Mono wax paper, N W Stevens, Nugget shoe polish, Rawakelle tea, Reckitt and Colman, Red Band Biscottes, Sanitarium Health Foods, The Kiwi Polish Co Ltd, Vi-Max cereal, Vita-Brits cereal on March 20, 2013 at 10.46

four square snap late 1950s-early 1960s - FOUR SQUARE  copy

Trying to date items can be a difficult prospect but I am quite good at it – I have a sort of “sixth sense” when it comes to this task. I set myself to it by “zooming in”- I kind of squint my eyes, and really focus hard. It takes a while but I can usually get an item down to a three year period, and sometimes even down to the correct year without knowing much about it. I guess it is just being a highly visual person with an almost photographic memory who has been collecting for decades. It goes in and pretty much just lodges there forever. Apparently I have “a mind like a steel trap”. Which can be a great thing – but on the other hand, there are events you’d probably rather forget. Anyway, moving right along…

four square snap late 1950s-early 1960s -MARMITE copy

As much as I have a vast storehouse in my cranium (although I still think I know very little and have a lot to learn) and a huge collection of images and books to draw on – sometimes it is just no help.

four square snap late 1950s-early 1960s - VITA-BRITS copy

Point in case is this snap set that Foodstuffs (N.Z. ) Ltd , owner of many brands which I previously covered here, issued as a (presumably) give-away promotional item – something they did a lot of to promote their business over the years (I cover all that in the linked article). Back in the day all kinds of card games were a very popular pastime. I’m not sure when they started to fall out of favour, but I’m taking a guess at the early 1980s – coincidentally around the time that computer games popularised – small hand-held consoles like Donkey Kong were a “must have” for us kids and probably the death knell of more manual entertainment.

four square snap late 1950s-early 1960s - MONO  copy

This particular set was issued for Four Square supermarkets – but this is not the only promotional card set they did – there were two happy families sets over the years – one which I think was done in the late 1950s (I’ll get to that further on) and another one around 1981 (which I have posted on a few times over the last couple of years as I make my way through restoring and exploring each set).

four square snap late 1950s-early 1960s - BLISS  copy

Anyway, with the one I showcase here – I am really not sure on exactly when it was produced – you would think with over ten different products it would not be so hard to work out with their combined company histories. Not the case.

four square snap late 1950s-early 1960s - VI-MAX copy

Many of these products had already been around for decades and had changed little – subtle adjustments to packaging can be a good indicator of dates. However the design of Nugget polish featured, for instance – is of little help when it comes to narrowing the date as the design was barely modified over decades and was in use through the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and into the early 1960s.

four square snap late 1950s-early 1960s - RAWAKELLE copy

One telling point which helps me “arrange” the timeline is that Foodstuffs issued one of the happy families game sets around this time – I believe for a number reasons just previous to the snap set coming out.

4 square happy families cards early 1960s 1961-1967 (2) copy

Some of the cards from the slightly earlier happy families set issued by foodstuffs in the late 1950s, but featuring many of the same products.

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four square snap late 1950s-early 1960s - RED BAND  copy

Why do I think that? Because unlike the snap set – it features three products that have some clues that help me date it as such – and those are Crest canned foods, Jojo jelly crystals, and Rawakelle tea.

four square snap late 1950s-early 1960s - GREGG'S copy

I know that Crest Fine Foods was sold in 1959 and the logo was being changed very shortly before that date. In fact I have some of the labels where the art department for Butland Industries has painted out the old logo and pasted a new one over it – so “in transition” at this point. The happy families set shows the old logo . A photo of a Woolworths store of 1964 shows the logo fully changed over. The snap set shows the new logo as well as a completely new can design for tinned peaches.

four square snap late 1950s-early 1960s - CREST  copy

Also, Rawakelle tea, which is also featured, was like Pam’s a Four Square/ Foodstuffs (New Zealand) Limited brand that was launched in 1957 . Jojo jelly, also featured, was launched in 1958 by N W Stevens/The Kiwi Polish Co Ltd that also produced Lushus (many baby boomers will remember this very popular jelly crystal brand) as well as a number of other desserts.

four square snap late 1950s-early 1960s - COOPER FRESHAIRE copy

So the happy family set was produced after 1957 and likely before 1960.

And where does that put me with dating the snap set?

four square snap late 1950s-early 1960s - NUGGET  copy

The snap set features a new design for Crest peaches so that’s my cut-off date on the lower end of the scale. It’s also worth noting that in the meantime since the happy families set had been issued – the Rawakelle packet had been the recipient of a makeover – but not wildly different. the only 1960s image I have seen of Cooper’s Fresh Aire is a  January 1962 ad  in which the can design seems to have been revised from what appears on the snap card. The product was definitely available by 1961 as exemplified by an ad in the New Zealand Film archive. This was still quite early days for television and the fact that they went to the effort to make an ad in this medium indicates it was a new product on the market and they wanted to make a splash.

snap box  copy

Outside of the early 1960s snap set box, a bit worse for wear.

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four square snap late 1950s-early 1960s - SNAP

So in summary, I would date the snap set at some time between 1960 and January 1962. That gives us the answer – probably 1961. If you asked me on first glance to pick an era, I would have said 1950s. If you showed me the two together, I would say that the snap set was issued before the other. But it goes to show if you really concentrate and try to figure it out with some information that has been gathered to help – the facts don’t lie!
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All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2013. All rights reserved.

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Man’s Best Trend: Commercialising Our Critters

In Aulsebrook's, Aulsebrook's biscuits, Biscats cat food, Bob Kurtz cartoonist, Bonzo dog food, Buffalo Puppy Cakes, Butland Industries, Champ pet food, Chef Jellimeat pet food, Chums pet food, Felix cat food, Fido Crunchies dog food, Fido dog food, Greg "Cat" Springer art director, Holmes pet food, J. Murray & Co pet food, Kitty cat food, Lucky pet food, Meat Packers NZ Ltd, Mellox Marvels, New England Fish Company (NEFCO), Pal pet food, Pet food, Pussy Puffs cat food, Thompson & Hill, Tux dog food, VIPets pet food, Wattie's baby food, Wattie's junior food, Whiskas pet food on March 10, 2013 at 10.46

Kitty Cat Food card pos poster 400 dpi 29 cm W copy

Kitty tinned cat food point-of-sale cardboard poster for a supermarket, late 1960s-early 1970s.

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I’ve recreated this point-of-sale board from an auction that came up some time ago (but I didn’t win). I liked the simple, clean-cut (not to mention kischy) graphics and thought it would be another project to add to the “remake” list – “It’s an easy one” I said to myself, “not too much detail…”. Well, famous last words. It took a lot longer to recreate than I thought it would.

A couple of people seemed to remember it on supermarket shelves from the late 1960s to early 1970s, but only vaguely; and were unsure of whether it was actually a New Zealand brand or not, when it had first appeared – or even how long it was around.

J MURRAY & CO dog food ads copy

Buffalo Puppy Cakes – Evening Post, July 1926, and  Melox – Evening Post,  February 1927. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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So while I was redrawing it, I looked around to see what I could find out about it – which was not much, until I stumbled across the online CV of an American company executive who listed having worked on Kitty cat food during his tenure developing the pet food division of an American company.

I think that Kitty was likely the creation of a long-standing US outfit named New England Fish Company (NEFCO), who were frantically building their pet food market and division in the 1960s, and by the early 1970s – had set-ups internationally including Asia. So I don’t think it was a domestic New Zealand manufacture or even a license – it was likely imported.

Kitty salmon tin dustincropsboy Flickr early 1970s

Kitty salmon tin, early 1970s. Image courtesy of  dustincropsboy on Flickr. 

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Although J. Murray and Co were making both Mellox Marvels and Buffalo Puppy Cakes by the late 1920s in Wellington, Aulsebrook’s were making and selling food for dogs by the late 1930s at least, and Chums was available in stores by the mid 1940s – all appear to have been biscuits or at the most pellets of some form – specific food for pets was likely still seen as a bit silly as well as a superficial expenditure.

Pets generally got the meals scraps from the table and whatever else was handy at the time to supplement it. I’m not really sure when or why people got the idea that their non-human companions needed “special” food, but it seemed to have started to build just before WWI. Certainly it existed in Britain and the US a bit earlier than that but I don’t think the general idea of wet, canned pet food as a convenience was a thing until nearly the 1950s.

The Milwaukee Journal - Jan 27 1975 pg 10 Kitty cat food ad

Kitty Salmon advert, The Milwaukee Journal, USA, Jan 1975.

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What the reasons are behind the advent of this industry is not something I’m really sure about and I can’t say that I’ve come up with what I think is a solid reason. The obvious one is simply advertising agencies suggesting it was an untapped market that could be built on to extract yet more money from unsuspecting customers. The increase in marketing of branded products could be a significant contributor, although that really started to build steam in the 1950s. I also thought about the juxtaposition between domestic animals as a practical requirement (think of the usefulness of cats and dogs to keep rodents and other pests under control, particularly in rural areas) and then – the trend turning to pampered pedigree luxury. I certainly think the enduring hardships of the Depression and then WWII rationing had an impact on the change of outlook when it came to all products.

I thought that probably the most plausible explanation for the explosion in the 1950s of pet food brands is the fact that the NZ government cut imports of some products by fifty percent in the mid-late 1950s. I have little knowledge the politics of import trade at the time. The obvious answer is it was put in place to foster the growth of domestic industries. Regardless, companies quickly responded to this; Wattie’s first launched their infant food line in 1958 in direct reaction – but already by 1955 they had established two brands of pet food – so this may or may not be the answer either.

Kitty Salmon ad still 1970s

A still of a Bob Kurtz cartoon from an early-mid 1970s Kitty cat food TV ad.

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First were Felix for cats and Fido for dogs – those two brands are acknowledged to be the first domestically produced canned pet food. Then came Bonzo which was launched the following year. Fido Crunchies was introduced in 1967 and Chef Jellimeat and the ludicrously-named Pussy Puffs in 1969 (the latter quickly flopped, and was put on ice until the mid 1980s when it was re-introduced into the market as Biscats and was a roaring success second time around). The idea of the pet food line apparently had its roots in using up waste fish product; no import politics involved seemingly – however a salesperson who was involved in that industry at the time told me that “in the mid 1970s, we were only allowed to bring in about five hundred dollars worth of Whiskas and Pal pet foods a year – the import licence covered just a hundred cases of each per annum, from memory – which we sold in one lump to Woolworths, who had it in one or two flagship supermarkets.”
At this time both of those brands still came in from overseas. Also by 1959 –  major foodstuffs company of the time, Butland’s, had joined the market with the Champ range for both cats and dogs. By the 1960s there was Lucky by Meat Packers NZ Ltd, and in the 1970s, Holmes, and VIPets by Thompson & Hills Ltd joined them. Tux had been around for a while by then. So I’m not sure why imports were needed at that point – However this piece of information proves there were restrictions – and there may have been for some time. It seems that by around 1979 import restrictions were lifted across several categories.

Kitty canned salmon cats like salmon

A still from an early-mid 1970s Kitty cat food TV ad showing the range.

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NEFCO was founded way back in 1868 – and by 1901 had changed from a co-op to an incorporated company. Kitty was probably launched sometime in the 1960s – quite late in the piece.The well-known cartoonist Bob Kurtz did a series of fun TV ads for them in the early 1970s that North Americans seem to remember well. You can see some of them here, here, and here.

However the short-lived brand was likely gone by the late 1970s. An art director who was around that time says – ” I heard the creator of these spots (Greg “Cat” Springer, who earned his nickname from this campaign ) speak at a meeting. He told us that, although the ads were wildly successful, and the product became an overnight sensation, Kitty failed quickly because cats wouldn’t eat it. “It made them gag,” he said. A caveat for all advertisers: Good ads don’t make good products.”

Although records show Kitty was still on the North  American market until at least 1977 –  through the decade the company went into decline due to various events including several serious law suits, and then eventually bankruptcy – filing for complete liquidation in 1980. In reality, Kitty probably only ever had a moment in Aotearoa.

CHUMS DOG BISCUITS Auckland Star  9 November 1944 Page 8

One of the earlier dog foods available in New Zealand on a commercial scale -Chums dog biscuits, Auckland Star, November 1944. Courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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I think this item was likely just a board done by some local sign artist for a supermarket in the Invercargill area in the very early 1970s. Like many of these Kiwi items the dated graphics make it appear to be much older than it really is, which can be misleading when it comes to researching. It clearly had little to do with the brand’s official imagery. They probably simply said – “Right, we have this new shipment of cat food coming in to get rid of. Do a sign – we don’t care much what it looks like – just put a cute kitten on it, anything will do”. While seemingly not a product unique to the Antipodes – the graphics likely are.

CHAMP - CHAMP PET FOOD COMPANY - J R BUTLAND ( cat food) 1950s EDIT copy

Above and below: Champ canned dog and cat foods, from  Butland Industries, aka the Champ Pet Food Co (later sold to Wattie’s). In retrospect I now know the label below was designed by Bernard Roundhill – the Champ mascot “Skippy” was designed by him. I have also come to believe the label above with frolicking kitties is also a Roundhill Studios design. However I don’t think he actually designed the label himself, it’s not his style and he wasn’t really versatile enough to step out of his particular way of doing things, unlike other commercial artists of the time  such as Nobby Clark – who could range across several different looks depending on what suited a client or job – and still remain unique in every one.  If he did do this from scratch, I’d be pretty surprised. These labels circa 1959, private collection.a

CHAMP - CHAMP PET FOOD COMPANY - J R BUTLAND (dog food and cat food) 1950s EDIT copy

 

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All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2013. All rights reserved.

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Addendum, mid Jan 2014: Two recent enamel advertising signs spotted that I thought suitable to add here. The Melox sign came up for auction on Ebay Australia. I mention Melox, made by J. Murray & Co of Wellington, above and there’s an advert posted. Seemingly it was an international brand being made under license, as now I have looked around I see references to it in other countries such as England. I was kind of interested to see this turn up in Oz but now I know the brand did not originate in New Zealand, it’s no surprise at all.  

MELOX DOG FOOD SIGN - poss by MELOX DOG FOOD - J MURRAY & CO Wellington edit smaller

Below that, a Tux enamel sign, courtesy of Mike Davidson collection. It probably dates from the 1950s. I have no earlier reference to Tux dog biscuits than the 1970s, however I am pretty sure it was around a lot longer than that. I don’t know if it originated with the Nestlé company (unlikely) but it seems to have been manufactured by them by the Seventies and then moved under a subsidiary of theirs – the “Animal Health Food Company” from 1992. As far as I am aware it’s still on supermarket shelves today. The same can’t be said of Melox (which maybe lives on in the animal pain med Meloxicam), or the cutesy Buffalo Puppy Cakes for that matter. Or Wattie’s freakily-named 1960s failure “Pussy Puffs.” Nope, that name was never going to work.

Tux Dog Biscuits (sign) ADD TO PET FOOD ARTICLE - prob 1950s Mike Davidson - smaller