Since Cracker Jack began including a prize in every box in 1912, there have been thousands of different prizes, and independent collector Jim Davis has most of them. For 13 years, he’s been cataloging and documenting Cracker Jack prizes on his website. We had a few questions for Davis about, among other things, how the prizes have
gotten lame changed over time.
What’s your favorite prize that’s ever been made?
This is similar to asking a parent which son or daughter is the favorite. As a category, I really like the ’60s put-together prizes; some are just models, but others are mechanicals that do something. It is amazing how intricate and detailed some of those are.
Do you think the prizes have been steadily going downhill? Why do you think they’re not as good anymore?
No thinking required, in my opinion; today’s paper prizes are inferior. People regularly mistake my website for the official product website and write to me complaining about the prize—and the lack of peanuts. Their complaints and your question indicate that I am not alone in my assessment. It seems to me that good prizes could still be produced very inexpensively in bulk and meet child protection standards, but of course they would be more expensive than rectangles of paper and thus would impact the bottom line. Even if the prizes changed over time, that would be an improvement, but the same prizes have been used over and over the last few years. How many morphing Thomas Jeffersons do you need?
Do you know of any other food products that include a lagniappe that we may or may not be familiar with?
I have a smaller collection of wrappers and boxes of the product Guess What?, which had a prize inside. I have not been able to find much information on Guess What? boxes and prizes, though I do know that some of the prizes were the same as those used by Cracker Jack. I used to get Guess What? boxes with pieces of wrapped taffy and a prize inside when I was a kid in the ’50s. Before boxes, the Williamson Candy Company wrapped the candy in paper with various games or activities printed on the wrappers. I have a dear friend who remembers getting those in the late ’20s. I think the Guess What? boxes disappeared in the mid-’60s.