Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rational Thought

One of the real fun things about doing this blog is some of the neat stuff that turns up unexpectedly. In researching the early days of Topps, I kept finding references to their supplying chewing gum to the U.S. Military for field ration kits. While this may not have been the most lucrative of contracts it did ensure that the plant kept running, even in fallow times at the retail level. BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd unearthed a really neat scan of some of these field ration pieces recently and sent it along. In keeping with the current vibe of the blog, I dissected his scan into component pieces. Here is a top view of one of the gum tabs from a ration kit:

The bottom view, event though you can't make it out here, looks to be copyrighted 1943:

There is an alternate version, the date of which cannot be determined from the scan (which I believe Jeff got from a military collector) but given the same Topps logo has been registered as a trademark on both versions I think they must be pretty close in time. This piece is a bit rounder:

The shape must have been specified by the contract with the military. Topps had an excellent working relationship with the U.S. Government from the early days on and their logo for a prior family business (American Gas Stations) certainly was patriotic. There were other tie-ins with the good ol' U.S. of A. that will be explored here in due course.

Compare the inner and outer wrappers above with those on these gum tabs from 1939, also from the Shep collection:

I am not sure if those are the first Topps tabs or not. My current take on the founding of the company dates to February of 1938 and I am not sure yet if their initial product was sold in that year or a year later but those are very early gum tabs. You can see the wax inner wrap, which would come and go with Topps penny tabs through at least 1949, after which it seems a full switchover to foil was made. I have to think the field rations required foil wrapping to stay fresh for longer periods and in harsher climates than the average vending machine sitting in some smoky tavern. Additionally, the Topps logo is not registered on the 1939 wrappers and is not really a logo at all, just some nice typography, whereas the 1943 version has some pizazz.

Topps supplied gum for ration kits for many years; it would be interesting to determine if the supply changed over to Bazooka at some point but the 1954-58 C-4 rations still held three tabs of peppermint gum. What a great way for Topps to advertise and market their name!

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