Pam’s Pictorama Post: It likely won’t surprise Pictorama readers to know that I am the sort of person who embraces an opportunity to outfit a new space or venture. While I have bad things I could say about the pandemic induced change to working at home, one bonus is I have had the chance to equip an entirely new desk. I devoted some previous post space to my desk at my office in Columbus Circle (one of those posts can be found here) back in the before time, but a new desk where I spend my days here in the apartment called for some judicious acquisition. Some bits found their way back from Columbus Circle on the one or two trips I made there (the lucky waving cats are with me and remain on the job with me; their post can be found here), but for the most part I picked up some bits and pieces to make it more functional and of course fun.
The most significant item is this large-ish tin box for Krak-R-Jak Biscuits. I purchased this from my new Instagram source who resides in the middle west region of our country, known to me as Miss Molly (@missmollystlantiques) who has supplied me with an array of interesting photos (one of those posts can be seen here) and some Halloween items (one gem seen here), but she is also the purveyor of several interesting boxes that now hold my office supplies.
This large tin box, which I gather kept generations of biscuits and bread fresh, holds my collection of greeting cards which were transported early on from Columbus Circle. I have long been in the practice of purchasing nice cards (or especially funny ones) whenever I see them. In the before time when traveling for work I would often wander into a card store in a new town if I spotted one. As a result there is a card shop in San Francisco I have frequented for years and another in Boston. (There is also a lingerie store in Milwaukee and a nice junk shop in Santa Barabara, but those are other stories.)
Of course I have my sources in Manhattan, although frankly even pre-pandemic they were already rapidly closing down and getting sparse. I cling to the one near us just above 86th Street on Lexington, there are two others, further down Third Avenue, or at least there were. Therefore, if you have received a greeting card from me its origin may have been Manhattan or it may have been Chicago, or another destination along my annual work route.
I actually spotted this large tin in a post Miss Molly did for some other items and asked about it. While technically not on the block for sale, she was willing to sell it and now it not only holds my greeting cards, but also holds up the stand for my iPad which (for a variety of technical reasons) is usually what I do my Zoom meetings on. It brings the iPad to a relatively ideal height, although the bookshelves behind me distort and it looks like Kim and I reside in a very long, narrow library.
As it turns out, this is not a rare tin and if you desire one you can probably purchase it for about what I paid for mine by looking online. Pristine examples might get up there a bit, but one like mine which has some good sides and some less good ones won’t run you too much. One person has assigned this to the 1930’s which I could find neither confirmation nor contradiction.
Of course I immediately assumed that Krak-R-Jak was somehow a forerunner to the candy corn, Cracker Jack. I would mostly be wrong as it turns out, at least as far as I can tell. This spelling of Krak-R-Jak seems to take you only to the Union Biscuit Company of Saint Louis when searched online. The actual history of said Union Biscuit Company is not readily available, or I have failed in finding it. Although my tin tells you to always ask for Krak-R-Jak Biscuits my online research mostly turns up a perhaps more popular slogan, Keeping the biscuits fresh.
The etymology of Cracker Jack or crackerjack according to Merriam-Webster is easiest to share in its entirety and is as follows: The late 19th-century pairing of crack and jack to form crackerjack topped off a long history for those words. Cracker is an elongation of crack, an adjective meaning “expert” or “superior” that dates from the 18th century. Prior to that, crack was a noun meaning “something superior” and a verb meaning “to boast.” (The verb use evolved from the expression “to crack a boast,” which came from the sense of crack meaning “to make a loud sharp sound.”) Jack has been used for “man” since the mid-1500s, as in “jack-of-all-trades.” Crackerjack entered English first as a noun referring to “a person or thing of marked excellence,” then as an adjective. You may also know Cracker Jack as a snack of candied popcorn and peanuts. That trademarked name dates from the 1890s.
Therefore, while I think Krak-R-Jak plays on this same term, it is in this case evidently not linked to the eventual creation of the candy, which appears to have been introduced to the world at the Chicago Exposition of 1893 and later perfected and marketed by Fritz and Louis Rueckheim. This recipe for candy corn and peanuts was already in existence and merely perfected (they figured out how to keep it from sticking one big mass) and marketed by them. I wonder if companies like the Union Biscuit were forced out of using the term eventually, although their logo cold easily pre-date the Cracker Jack candy use. Meanwhile, they were just using what would become an archaic term for pointing out that they had excellent biscuits.
While I thought I would also meander onto a wonderful little velvet covered box from Clark’s Spool Cotton Thread, which now houses paper clips, and can be spotted in the above photo, I will save that for another day. The Pictorama desk is full of delights to be revealed.