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
The World of Advertising has generated its own iconography of familiar visual images, Idols, every bit as powerful as the most popular of Comic Characters. They range from the earliest examples, such as the "RCA Nipper Dog", and "Bibendum, the Michelin Tire Man," who will have a whole page of his own, to "Mr. Peanut," "Ready Kilowatt," and "Elsie the Borden Cow." Their tradition continues, right up to the present day, represented, now, by those sometimes vilified purveyors of fast food, "Ronald McDonald" and the "Burger King". Those last two, as well as the "Geico Gecko," are too late to be included here, but all the rest, have found a place in Mouse Heaven.
Many of those idols, small enough to fit, are represented in the showcase, below, which is located on the Great Wall, just above the Pyramid of Bisques. Other larger objects are scattered, throughout the house.
Right in the middle we find Bonzo in his official capacity as the "Crosley Pup". This was Crosley’s answer to RCA Victor's “Nipper” and His Master’s Voice! This is the advertising version of an image that also existed, without earphones, as just plain Bonzo. There is a smaller version of the Pup in plaster, to the left, with advertising on his chest.
Behind Bonzo, are three dolls designed by Maxfield Parrish, and manufactured by Joseph Kallus. They represent both color variations of the RCA Radiotron Man, who wears a hat that represents a vacuum tube. Note the slots in their hands. They were designed to hold advertising cards. The larger doll is the GE Radio man, he is a kind of Drum Major, complete with a baton.
On either end, are two Hot Point Men, also by Kallus. It is interesting that these advertising dolls, not intended to be sold to the public, have survived. Maybe that’s why. In the front, on the right, is the National Bisquit Company’s “Zu Zu”, the Ginger Snap Clown. This doll was manufactured in two sizes, and was intended to be sold as a toy.
Right behind Zu Zu, is the Dunlop Golf Ball Man. This popular image was designed by John Hassall for the Dunlop Tire Company. They also made golf balls. And this image appeared on all sorts of objects. Here are two of the more elegant manifestations of it, a German Bisque, by Schaffer Vater and a pot metal paper weight, on a marble base. The heads are pose-able on both the figures.
Here, too, is the “Kool Penguin.” And in front of him, a most curious toy, “SUSH! The Radio Bug". He came in many pieces that joined together to construct the figure. Listening with earphones, he represents a moment in the progress of technology that was soon over.
Scattered around the case, are several images of Mr. Peanut. The nicest is the elegant, and highly detailed cast metal statue, to the right of Bonzo. On the left, is the Wood Jointed Mr. Peanut doll. Then, there is the painted version of the plastic bank. And, on the far right, is a paper mache container, with the fragile paper label on his hat; and farther right, beyond that, is the plastic Windup toy. I nearly passed by a rubber image, to the left of Zu Zu, that, so far, has survived.
Elsewhere in the house, apart from the Mr. Peanut Costume, which has cropped up in many photos already, are two more rather nice Mr. Peanut objects. The first, I have had for 45 years. He is the figure that is intended to be riding on the barrel of a peanut roaster. At the time I got him, in NYC, there were rumors that the roaster he belonged on was going to show up, any day. It always eluded me, So here he stands/sits, waiting.
The other image is my favorite. This object fascinated me, ever since I saw one, tapping on a window in Times Square, when I was a kid. This one is set up to tap on his Plexiglas showcase. That was a bad idea. After a few minutes, it becomes annoying. At his feet are two dolls of the Campbell Kids by Grace Drayton, in amazing condition. And at their feet is a series of tiny chefs that resemble those in Sendak's "Night Kitchen."
A few Advertising oddities remain. Although, the category was not my thing, many characters and objects transcended that lack of enthusiasm, and moved in. I must confess that I have a thing for these really early dolls of the Spearmint Kid. There’s one in the case above, and two elsewhere. Here is the ad in Playthings magazine that announced them, in 1915.
And here are two examples, one with the original spear. They fold up like an accordion, and, at one time, squeaked. They have a spring inside to make them pop up again. And, according to the ad, they have “Wrigley Eyes!” One has the original hang-tag. The other carries a pole with the remnants of what was, apparently, some sort of flag. Both have staffs with lethal points. The Kid on the left has a pull string with a celluloid ring that makes him do his thing. Their faces, too, are celluloid. The color green has faded, long ago, from every one of these that I have ever seen, which in total, is three, all of which are here with me.
Here is an oddity I'm pretty sure is rare. This is the original ad, as it appeared in Playthihgs Magazine in 1916, “His Masters Voice Dog, Victor”. The ad sure goes into a lot of details, complete with testimonials. But, in spite of all its excess explanations, it still isn’t clear if this doll was licensed from RCA Victor, or not.
“Victor” came in four sizes, of which this is the largest.
He sits beside the stereo, a link between the first talking machine and my own monument to 1950s technology. This equipment , especially the huge speakers, downstairs, are 45 years old. They still sound great, today. Oh, here, also, is a Joseph Kallus' doll called, Joy, in her original box. She is a joy to see. Here too is a small stray, who looks a lot like “Victor's” pup to me. And a rarity that I advertised for for years, and never saw, except this one, "The Baseball Doll."
And here is a display piece that I really have no place to display, but I love it anyway. It is big, a full four feet wide, and beautiful. The images are alive and powerful! It now resides in a darkened stairway. At least, it won’t fade there.
Next is Reddy Kilowatt. I could kill for some of these. This is the small accumulation or Reddys that came my way, over the years. Some were exciting, even, Electrifying, and some were just OK. In the back, is a huge wood jointed display. This has been “electrified” with a light bulb for a nose. I wonder how he’ll look with one of those newfangled spirals?
Among this group of Reddy knickknacks, is a pair that is quite rare. One is made of wood and painted gold. The other is similar to the later ones, but his image is much earlier. The later Reddy figures, too, are really quite wonderful. The bases that they literally plug into, being light sockets, is a touch of genius. Their bodies are crystal clear Lucite. The earlier one is infused with Day-Glo. And few people realize, perhaps because its strength fades, over time, that the white elements of these figures, actually, glow in the dark, with a ghostly pale blue light. Towering above them, is an elegant Reddy trophy, standing on a milk glass pedestal. It depicts Reddy, triumphantly harnessing a fistful of lightening bolts, like the Mighty Norse God Thor.
This marionette is unique. He is obviously one of a kind, and absolutely fabulous! His nose, too, is wired for electricity. A battery pack is incorporated into his controller that makes his nose light up. The power travels down those two fat red “strings.” I am still looking for one of those big red light bulbs to replace the one that’s there, the kind that they used to use on the transformers of Lionel trains.
One of the most impressive Reddys would be the huge stuffed “doll” by Lars of Italy. It seems that I was not the only one who special ordered things from them. This doll is enormous! And his nose, too, is wired to light up. If you saw the electric cord, then you, like me, would be afraid to plug him in.
Reddy Kilowatt was unusual in that there was no overriding dictatorial committee to decide what branch offices could create. Different electric companies, in different states, were allowed make any kind of images they pleased. In that respect, Reddy never becomes boring to collect. There is no predicting what one will see next.
One more object that falls into the category of “Readymade”, as an extraordinary Work of Art, ready to go, is this gratifying object that depicts a “Mongol” pencil. This advertising symbol is intriguing. I first encountered it in the form of this simple cardboard fold out. The repeated image is eye-catching. But fully realized in 3 Dimensions, the effect is dramatic.
This perfect rendition, in wood, turned up at Atlantic City. Clearly, it is the same image, although, the name has been changed to "Van Dyke". I just looked it up on Google: “Eberhard Faber’s Mongol pencil was originally the company’s high grade drawing pencil. It must not have achieved the expected success because sometime between 1914 and 1920 the Van Dyke drawing pencil succeeded it.” That would appear to date the Cardboard fold out as very early. This sculpture is simple but impressive. It is larger than shown here. And, in person, it has an amazing presence.
Pushing the confines of this category, here is something difficult to classify, but if it does not go here, then where? This is a visual Bacchanal, for anyone who loves rich complex imagery, particularly that which relates to Side Shows, Fairs and Carnivals. This is Guaranteed to send your imagination “RUNNIN WILD!” This amazing artifact was, either in a time capsule, or, in fact, is one, in itself! Now, travel to the Turn of the Century to take a chance on the ultimate Prize Giveaway. My God ! This thing is Great! Once you enter into it, you will get lost in the crowd.
The array of merchandise, if accurately portrayed, would permit one to date this artifact. Some of those prizes, the toys, especially, would be worth a lot more than the nickel fee, today. Far more fascinating are the crowd, and the Side Show Attractions. If you get close enough, the imagery will draw you into the world that it portrays. In the sky is every kind of current airship of the day, two dirigibles and a parachute, no planes. One concessionaire appears to be holding a Kewpie doll. If that is the case, it would date this from after 1913.
This stand-up display is, in itself, an impressive and complex piece of paper engineering. A full four feet wide, it all folds up. Each corner, where the folds meet, has a tiny hole to relieve stress. The Barkers head is a separate piece that fits into an envelope, affixed to the back, and then rests in a pocket, fashioned in his collar, to hold his neck.
I guess, that pretty much covers the small selection of advertising, with the exception of Bibendum, who we will meet, eventually .