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Archive for the ‘Chewing Gum Products Ltd’ Category

Bite Size: Cruel Candy

In A&R bubblegum, A.W. Allen, Allen's confectionery, Allens & Regina bubblegum, Big Charlie bubblegum, Bubble Gum, Candy, Chewing Gum, Chewing Gum Products Ltd, Confectioner, confectionery, Heards confectionery, J. Romison & Co. Ltd., Kool Fruits and Kool Mints, Lifesavers, Lifesavers candy, Mackintosh's, Mackintosh's confectionery, Mackintosh's Toffee De Luxe, Mad Hot Rods bubblegum, Nestlé, Oddfellows mints, Playtime gum, Regina Confections., Romison's confectionery, Steam Rollers mints, Topps bubblegum on October 26, 2014 at 10.46

Cruel Candy LWK copy

In 1910 in Melbourne, Australia, an elderly man was killed by a steamroller in a tragic accident. John Tanner, walking in front of the machine on the job for the local council, was momentarily distracted by a ratchet horse trotting along the road, and was squashed flat from foot to chin. The end…but maybe not.

Allen's steam rollers made in NZ Jon Fabian edit copy

New Zealand-made  Steam Rollers wrapper and logo detail, note how at this time the Allen’s brand seems to have been scrubbed. Image courtesy of Jon Fabian collection.

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This event apparently inspired the illustration that formed the packet design for “Steam Roller” mints, so the story goes. I don’t know how much truth there is to this tale that was circulated amongst children of the 1960s, but even if it’s an urban myth I don’t really care – because it makes such a good story. Regardless the fact that someone did befall this unfortunate accident that’s claimed to be depicted –  is an interesting coincidence. If this wasn’t the idea that spawned the creepy design, then on its own it’s inexplicable and very strange. The fellow in it clearly looks to be in agony and distress, and not in a comedic way. If it wasn’t Tanner’s unfortunate demise that sparked the Steam Rollers imagery, then why did they choose it?

Allen's steam rollers Collector cards Australia Jon Fabian 1

Allen’s collector cards advertising  Steam Rollers, Image courtesy of Jon Fabian collection..

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Most of the adverts for the candy seem to be from 1933, so a guess would be they were perhaps launched around that time. Of course Allen’s, originally an Australian brand with its roots in the 1890s, had quite a history in New Zealand. In fact the wrapper featured here, found in an Australian tome where it had been used as a bookmark, was made in Aotearoa, seemingly sometime in the 1990s, I’m guessing. It goes right back to their complicated involvement with the (recently revived) Regina brand, with which they joined forces and made A&R and Playtime bubblegum from the mid 1960s, and Big Charlie and Topps for a while in the 1980s, amongst other lesser known and short-lived brands. Most people would remember the hundreds of different sets of collector cards that were issued over the years by Allens & Regina like “Mad Hot Rods” which were hugely popular and are still highly collectable today.

A DREADFUL DEATH BY STEAM ROLLER Barrier Miner Broken Hill NSW Wednesday 20 July 1910 copy

Tanner’s death: Barrier Miner, Broken Hill, NSW. Wednesday 20 July, 1910. Image courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia.

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I also remember the others in the Allen’s range of wrapped roll candies – Butter Menthols, Fruit Tingles, Soothers, Kool Fruits and Kool Mints, Butter Scotch, Anticol lozenges, and I think Irish Moss jubes, Mixed Fruit and Black Currant Pastilles. I’m sure they finally stopped making Steam Rollers and the others quite a few years back; they were definitely still round in the late Eighties, but what happened after that – I don’t know. Steam Rollers were finally discontinued in Australia around 2012. But right until the end the macabre logo remained.

Allen's steam rollers Collector cards Australia Jon Fabian 1930s blue copy

Allen’s collector cards advertising  Steam Rollers, Image courtesy of Jon Fabian collection..

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Ownership of the Allen’s business in New Zealand passed to Nestlé sometime between 1989 and 1994 (sources differ), from there on the brand acquired the long-running Heard’s, Mackintosh’s, Lifesavers and Oddfellow brands along the way – later making Sporties, Minties, Slammers and Fantales. The Allen’s range is still going today, albeit whittled down to just a few lines in Aotearoa and only a couple of the “classics” left. In Australia Allen’s still claim to be the top-selling sugar confectionery brand – but like the story about the Steam Rollers logo, I can’t say how reliable this is.

Addendum late October 2015: These Allen’s paper wrappers were auctioned recently. They are Australian; but I’m sure they were more or less identical in Aotearoa as I seemed to remember them as soon as I saw them. 

1980s x 4 ALLENS WRAPPERS BUTTER MENTHOL SOOTHERS ANTICOL HONEY & ANISEED copy sml

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