All Photographs and Copy are Coryright MEL BIRNKRANT
Some of the imagery is Copyright The Walt Disney Company
THE MEL BIRNKRANT COLLECTION
A Guided Tour of
JIGGS, MAGGIE and SNOOKUMS, artifacts of George McManus. Mel Birnkrant takes us on a GUIDED TOUR of his Comic Character COLLECTION.
“The Gumps” was created by Sidney Smith in 1917. The idea for a strip about an ordinary middle class family was conceived by Joseph Patterson, editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. He hired Smith to write and draw The Gumps. Up until then, Smith had been drawing a talking animal strip of his own, about a Billy goat named Old Doc Yak. Overnight, Doc Yak moved out of town, and left his house, and even his car, “Old 348”, behind. The paper showed the house sitting vacant for a day. And on the following one, the Gump Family moved in to stay. They remained there for the next 42 years.
Researching dates on Wikipedia, today, I discovered a wild story from a 1937 issue of Life Magazine, claiming that Smith based the character of Andy Gump on a man named Andy Wheat, who actually had no lower jaw. Apparently, there is some dispute as to whether this is true, or false. But it is true that Wheat, who later changed his name to Gump, like Andy Gump, himself had a wife named Min and a son named Chester, and even an Uncle Bim! What is also indisputable, is the fact that Andy Wheat did bear an uncanny resemblance to Andy Gump, especially, around the chin.
The Gumps achieved popularity, right away; and soon there was merchandise. Something about the stuff that was made was always interesting, and just a little bit offbeat. It ranged from the Classic toys, old 384 became the standard Arcade cast iron vehicle, to outrageous novelties, such as “The Andy Gump Movies”, which you will soon see. All these things were nicely designed with a sense of humor. A candy named "Andy Gump Drops"? What a delicious pun! As nice a sampling of such artifacts, as you are likely to see, anywhere, is gathered in the case below. There are even a few pieces there that might be considered rare.
The central figure in this case, a plaster statue of Andy Gump, might well be the only one. It is exceedingly well done, depicting Andy as President of the “Husbands Union”. Chained to the podium is a volume, titled the “Book of Rules”. He holds a gavel in his hand. This sculpture is simple and elegant, and in the eyes of some, myself included, is possibly the most beautifully executed representation of Andy Gump there is.
Standing tall, to the left of him, is another nicely realized image, the Andy Gump Jigger. This sizeable contrivance was intended to stand on a windup phonograph, and, through a complex mechanism, animate the figure to create the illusion that Andy is dancing to the music. The base is cast iron and very heavy. On the right side of the showcase, is the Swiss jointed Bucherer doll of Andy. This is one of the rarest of the comic figures that they manufactured. Around here, somewhere, I have the original brochure that shows the many poses he can take. God knows where it is. Some of the things, remaining in the case really should to be removed to be appreciated, the bank, in front, especially. It is an elegant object in every respect. I see that time and tarnish have dimmed its beauty. Let’s take it out, and let it shine again!
This concept is both clever and frustrating. It was intended to encourage children to save money . When they had saved $5 in the tin lithographed bank, they could take the handsomely decorated canister to the real bank, and open it with a can opener, and, at the same time, open their own savings account with the bank. In exchange for doing that, they would be given this spectacular pot metal/pewter bank. I believe there was a way to hide what was left of their tin bank, inside. Certainly, no collector would want to do that. The tin lithography of Andy on the front, and the Gump family on the back is too nice to hide. The metal bank is elegantly understated, and calculated to convey a sense of security, with Andy on one side, and wealthy Uncle Bim on the other, guarding your money.
MOUSE OVER to See the Other Side
This card, which is also a 78 RPM record, was part of Andy’s Presidential Campaign. It is a compelling piece of political memorabilia. I love quaint curios, the sort of thing that most would be inclined to throw away. There is something hopeful about the fact that trifles like this have survived. They offer proof that there are still people in the World who cherish, seemingly, insignificant things.
Here is a rather large mirror, similar to a pin back button in construction, advertising Andy Gump for President. I’d vote for him in a heartbeat. His catchy slogan was: “He wears no man’s collar”.
The next item is “over the top”. Absolutely mind boggling! I don’t know how such a thing can even exist. Fully endorsed by Sidney Smith, it is both disturbing and fascinating. It operates on the same, not so secret, principle as the famous Johnson Smith & Company Mystery Pig. It is called, “The Movies”, because it does! Here is the envelope it comes in, the object itself, and below them, the actual ad from Johnson Smith. I’ll let you drink in all the deliciously revolting details for yourself. For now, it sits here silently, and I hope empty. If I ever finish the 60 pages of this website, I might come back and put an electronic fly, inside.
This is the box that contained a dime supply of “Andy Gump Drops”, another fragile artifact that has survived the ravages of time.
And here is one of many in the series of Sunshine Andy Gump Biscuits boxes. Andy proclaims “Boys and girls, Here’s lots of Sunshine.” These biscuits shaped like Andy and his family and others like them, in the form of licensed Characters were clever variations on the ever popular “Animal Crackers.”
This sweeping panorama of the Gump Family, chasing after Buck is actually a wrapper designed to encircle a three pound round canister of Gump Family Candy. It is dated 1923. A “bullet” that reads, “Say Bikes”, teaches how to pronounce the candy company’s name.
This set of die-cut paper figures (the folding bases are still inside the box, unused) is one of my favorite items, It is so peripheral! How many of these might still exist. I would like to think there was a similar set for every cast of Comic Characters, but something tells me this is it, because the company that made it is simply called “The Andy Gump Company”. I can think of no better example than this, of what is typical of Collecting Comic Characters. Unlike objects made of fine china, precious metals, or rare gems, the things that Comic Character Collectors like best are “valuable,” today, solely, because they tended to be thrown away, and considered valueless, in days gone by.
If the Gumps could ever be credited with creating a Classic Toy, it would be this, the Arcade Andy Gump cast iron 348 Roadster. The very indestructability of this heavy cast iron vehicle made its paint extremely vulnerable. Every brief outing, on a concrete sidewalk, left its mark upon the paint. There is something so basic and iconic about this toy that it implies that every Comic Character Collection must include one. This, and the Popeye motorcycle are the only two cast iron toys that made their way into mine. Seeking one in pristine condition was too expensive a game for me to play. I waited, until the one that seemed just good enough, not great, came my way. The paint was not too bad, neither was the price; in fact, it was amazingly reasonable, considering that it came from the legendary toy dealer/collector, Frank Whitson.
Now, if you are ready, let’s get in Old 348 and head just down the highway to Gasoline Alley. We’ll find a smaller version of this there, included in a set of vehicles, known as the “Tootsietoy Funnies”.