Thursday, March 29, 2007

Mr. Peanut Slumber Party

One of the more unusual items to feature Mr. Peanut's likeness is this sleeping bag shown in a 1981 J.C. Penney catalog. The bag itself is a replica of the single-serving Planter's Peanuts package.

One has to wonder how popular this choice was when faced with the competing Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back bags. However, I for one, would have given anything to have this slumber bag. Unfortunately, I already had a sleeping bag, the fabric of which is shown below. It featured not the sophisticated Mr. Peanut, but childish Sprout, the Green Giant's young helper.

Sprout doing sprout-like activities

Sprout heading off to school

Sprout tucked into his pea pod bed

This sleeping bag was a premium received for sending in a large number of Green Giant labels. Looking at this now, you probably wish you had one as a child. But believe it or not, I was not the envy of my friends. They seemed to like their Barbie and Wonder Woman bags just fine. Eventually I would upgrade to Garfield and Sprout would be handed down (Sorry Curly Wurly, no Care Bears or Strawberry Shortcake for you!). Alas, the Mr. Peanut sleeping bag would never be mine, but at least I still have the 26-year-old catalog page.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mr. Peanut Impersonator

They say imitation is the sincerest flattery. That's obviously true from this 1980 package of Nabisco Toasted Peanut Butter Sandwich crackers featuring a faux Mr. Peanut. This peanut man sports a diminutive bowler hat, not the aristocratic top hat of our debonair original. He also lacks a monocle and cane, although his mis-proportioned lower half suggests the latter may be helpful.
Nabisco did not have to rely on this ersatz Mr. Peanut long. Just one year later in 1981 Planter's Standard Brands merged with Nabisco. Out of a job, this spokespeanut went on to star in the Broadway revue Fosse.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Make Your Food Come Alive

In her recent book, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, Amy Sedaris urges readers to make their food come alive, especially when entertaining young guests. Earlier this year, The Leonard Lopate Show on New York public radio station WNYC sponsored the Amy Sedaris Craft Challenge, a call to enliven food with googly eyes. The response was phenomenal, with over 300 photos submitted. Amy herself chose the winners. Check out all the entries as a slide show or as a Flickr album.

While these two entries were not among the finalists, I found them to be especially compelling. But then, what food doesn't look better with googly eyes?

Winsome Pizza courtesy of Uglyagnes and Hearty Breakfast courtesy of Angie Naron

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Onward, Peanut Soldiers

Mr. Peanut has delighted generations of food-with-eyes-loving children. In a 1983 letter to Barbara Reddock, co-author of Planters Peanuts Advertising & Collectibles (1978), my father reminisced:

"I was born and raised in the Wilkes-Barre area and can well remember many visits to 'the peanut store' in the 1940s. Mr. Peanut could usually be found walking around the square, usually within a block of the store. As a child I used the Mr. Peanut whistles (p. 70) as toy soldiers. I had hundreds of them, which I recall coming from a large container and costing 1¢ each. Only four remain."

Sadly, that original peanut store in Wilkes-Barre met it's demise just last year.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Mr. Peanut

Perhaps the oldest and most well-known anthropomorphic food character is that debonair legume, Mr. Peanut. Planter's Peanuts was founded in 1906 in Wilkes-Barre, PA by two Italian immigrants, Amedeo Obici and Mario Peruzzi. In 1916, after much success and expansion of the business to Suffolk, VA, Obici and Peruzzi held a contest to create a trademark for their brand. A fourteen year old boy was the winner of $5 for his drawing of an anthropomorphic peanut. An artist embellished it with a top hat, cane, and monocle. And the rest is food with eyes history.

My personal experience with Mr. Peanut goes back to early childhood. My grandparents owned a small Italian-American grocery store in Northeastern Pennsylvania, very near to Mr. Peanut's hometown of Wilkes-Barre. A perk of being in the grocery business is receiving advertising premiums from the various food companies. At some point early on I realized I was drinking from a straw with a Mr. Peanut top...

and writing with a Mr. Peanut mechanical pencil.

These utilitarian objects were soon retired from use and became the foundation of a full-fledged Mr. Peanut collection. While the collection is no longer growing, it does contain some interesting items that will be featured in upcoming posts.