Question: When did the first Cracker Jack toy giveaways begin appearing?--V.H.
Answer: The first of these colorful novelties began appearing in the Cracker Jack boxes in 1912. They are highly collectible but difficult to chronicle in terms of a complete collection. When we contacted the Chicago-based firm, we were told that not even company officials can be certain about every novelty that has been produced over the years.
A wide range of "prizes" has been produced by Cracker Jack--including games, whistles, comic strip characters, various vehicles and the like. Such items fall into the broad collectible category of advertising giveaways--gimmicks that appeared to greatly proliferate after the turn of the century. Because of their strong nostalgia and Americana value, they are among the most popular of collectibles to be found at shows and flea markets.
Aside from the Cracker Jack-type toy, manufacturers of hundreds of products have latched onto the advertising value of such giveaways and mass-produced an enormous variety of items from calendars to buttons. Price tags on such items have taken off, so don't be surprised if a seller asks you for an arm and a leg the next time you see a Coca-Cola tray, for example, in good condition at a flea market.
Given the popularity of such giveaways, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there are also plenty of fakes on the market in this collectible category. Spotting them usually isn't easy. To guard against being taken, the collector will have to become familiar with printing processes, the history of the collectible being sought and, if possible, the original pictures of the collectible to check against the item for sale.
Ronald L. Soble cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to questions of general interest about collectibles. Do not telephone. Write to Your Collectibles, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.