Cracker Jack Prizes

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by Alex Jaramillo; Abbeville Press; 96 pages.

Does the world really need a book on Cracker Jack prizes, you may wonder. When you have seen this one, you will be convinced. The prizes, selected from the author’s collection of about five thousand, are arranged by decade: tiny metal elephants and flatirons and whistles; paper eyeshades and eyeglasses; lithographed cards that do tricky things when you pull a tab or spin a wheel. As presented here, every one looks desirable, and the plastic trinkets from the 1940s manage to look as if they’re fashioned of jade.

A German immigrant named Frederick William Rueckheim began making caramelized popcorn in 1871. In 1899 he put it in boxes and called it Cracker Jack. About 1910, as an advertising gimmick, the company began promising a prize in every box. For his logo Rueckheim chose a sailor boy and his dog Bingo, so named, the author supposes, “because that’s what you cry out when you win the prize.” He goes on to analyze the logo’s lasting appeal: “Bingo’s tangled leash suggests a real happening, not just a commercial pose. Jack’s wide stance is, to me, an indication of his openness and sincerity. Finally, there is his salute, he recognizes us. … We are seen and acknowledged by a sweet child who is engaged in the mission of spreading Cracker Jack and cheer to a hungry world.” Which is just what Abbeville Press accomplishes in this unaccountably appealing book.