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The original purpose of Nathaniel Currier’s prints was:

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to document news events..
to practice lithography.
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Currier & Ives' America
by Walton Rawls

In the 1800s-long before the days of photojournalism and cable news-vibrant, contemporary depictions of news events, portraits of prominent political and social figures, and scenic views of the American wilderness were circulated throughout the growing nation. From the beginning of the exciting century that saw a small nation expand into a mighty world power, the famous lithographic firm of Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives produced over 7,000 prints, capturing scenes of American life in vivid detail.

                                   
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Cookie Cutter of a Civil War Horse Soldier

LATEST COLLECTIBLES ARTICLE__________________________

Going Crackers
by Bob Brooke

 


Crackers are one of Britain’s greatest traditions. Formerly only seen and enjoyed in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, their quirkiness has lately appeared in British T.V. shows, such as “All Creatures Great and Small” here in the U.S. and elsewhere.

No festive British dining table would be complete without crackers. Each year, people gather around and politely ask the person sitting next to them if they would pull a cracker. Then out floats the corny jokes, the even more tacky gifts and, of course, the unflattering colored tissue paper hats, worn during a festive dinner and dating back to Roman Saturnalia celebrations. Collecting unused crackers has gained in popularity and would never have been possible if it weren’t for confectioner Tom Smith.



Each cracker consists of a segmented cardboard tube wrapped in a brightly decorated twist of paper with a prize in the center, making it resemble an oversized sweet-wrapper. It takes two people to pull one apart, each holding an outer chamber, causing the cracker to split unevenly and leaving one person holding the central chamber and prize. A mild bang or crackle, produced by friction on a shock-sensitive, chemically impregnated card strip, accompanies the split.

Cracker History
It was Tom Smith of London who invented crackers in 1847. He discovered the “bon-bon,” a sugared almond sweet, while on a trip to Paris in the 1840s. Wrapped in twists of colored paper he realized this sweet would sell well in London. Until then, confectioners sold sweets loose in small paper bags. His bon-bon was a huge success but only over the Christmas holiday, but once the festive season ended, sales stopped.

To encourage orders year round, Smith added a small love moto which he placed within the sweet’s wrapper. But sales remained brisk only around Christmas so he decided to develop his seasonal sweet wrapping. Smith had a flash of inspiration one day after he had thrown a log onto his burning fire and a big crackle exploded from it. This sound was the necessary spark that he had been looking for in order to enhance his “bon bon” and make it more desirable to buyers.

In order to add the crackler mechanism, Smith had to increase the size of the paper wrapper. He eventually dropped the sweet and replaced it with a trinket: fans, jewelry and other substantial items. He marketed his new product as the Cosaque, French for Cossack, because the noise made was similar to the sound of the Cossack’s cracking whips.as they rode through Paris during the French and Prussian Wars. But soon "cracker" became the commonly used name.

After two years , Smith discovered that if he pasted a strip of saltpeter to two pieces of thin card at each end, the friction of pulling would create a spark and then a crack. He experimented a lot and sometimes they burst into flames. By 1860, Smith had finally perfected his cracks resulting in the birth of his “Bangs of Expectation.”

Smith’s Cosaques were such a huge success that he took the idea overseas. Unfortunately, this was a bad move since one Eastern manufacturer stole it, copied it and shipped a consignment of crackers to Britain just before Christmas. Smith was horrified but wouldn’t be beaten, so he set about designing eight different varieties of cracker, working day and night with his staff. This time his crackers were ready to be distributed across the country in time for Christmas. After this, Smith became the largest manufacturer of crackers.

Early Crackers
Throughout the Victorian period boxes of crackers had many themes, with Japanoserie being one of the most prolific. Inspired by the popular operas of the time, such as Madame Butterfly and The Mikado, these cracker boxes featured images of Japanese Geisha girls and inside the surprises were miniature versions of Japanese pottery. These Japanese inspired crackers continued right through to the outbreak of World War I and Tom Smith crackers often featured Oriental themes.

Smith often used topical events such as the ‘Votes for Women; Suffragettes. For this, he produced two different boxed sets—the “anti” packs which made fun of the women and the “pro” packs, which joined allegiance with the women, made in the purple, green and white house colors of the Suffragette movement.

In 1884, Smith introduced “The ‘Bank of Love” crackers, a popular choice with young people holding parties as the crackers box depicted a bank where they could find love. So if the party hosts or guests were looking for a potential wife or husband, these crackers were the perfect ice breaker. Smith also reissued the same design as the “Toy Bazaar” and “Lowther Arcade.”



The early 20th Century brought with it a variety of new ideas for cracker box imagery and the crackers themselves. In November 1922, archaeologist Howard Carter discovered King Tut’s Tomb in the Valley of the Kings. This discovery fueled the public’s interest in Egyptology, including Egyptian images on boxes of crackers that contained contained miniature mummy cases.

Smith created another popular cracker in the early 1930s, entitled “Our Charming Prince,” which depicted Britain’s future King, Edward VIII. Each crimson gelatine cracker contained either a small miniature bust of His Majesty, a jockey cap, miniature stirrups, racing horses, motor cars, and even cigarettes.

War Time Crackers
World War II placed restrictions on cracker production. The Ministry of Defence asked Smith to fold and tie bundles of his crackers together with special string and official regulation knots. The agency then used these bundles for training soldiers in armed combat since the sound made when a soldier pulled the string replicated the sound of gunfire.

Before stopping production of these wartime crackers, the distributors Cecil Coleman Ltd sent them to members of the British armed forces based overseas for a “job well done.” The members of the RAF each received an Air Force blue and silver bon-bon cracker decorated with a sticker of a Spitfire airplane. Today, these are very rare and highly prized by collectors.

Post War Crackers
After World War II, crackers became plain and simple, and it wasn’t until the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 that imagery on cracker boxes became popular again. Since that time, designs for crackers have focused on television shows, celebrities, and blockbuster films. Today, crackers continue to feature a variety of themes, from gardening and wildlife to board games.

Being a popular collectible has also encouraged cracker makers to produce special boxes of crackers, geared exclusively towards the collectors’ market.



Cracker Collecting
When it comes to collecting crackers, there are a few key things collectors look for. First and foremost is that the crackers have never been pulled. Second is the design on the cracker and the box imagery, as well as what novelties can be found inside. Both define the rareabilty. Condition is also important, and the better the condition—not too much fading to the crackers or box, no tears and still with their surprises inside—the more they’re worth.

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