This “The Back Page” appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of Texoma Living!.
I bought a book off the discount rack at a local bookstore not long ago entitled Quintessence: The Quality of Having IT.
On the jacket fly, the author explained the book’s purpose. “This a book about the objects of this world that transcend their form and function, that offer more to us than we ask of them—that rise above themselves to assume iconic stature.”
“…That offer more to us than we ask of them,” may be the key. One of the products described was the Coca Cola bottle, not the modern plastic version, but the green tinted, glass, six-ounce bottle that defined Coke for 75 years. A few years ago in Atlanta, there were a number of billboards that had only the silhouette of the famed hobble-skirt bottle on a white background. The copy read, “Think of a soft drink.” That said it all.
Page after page of icons that we instantly recognize made up the rest of the book. The Lacoste polo shirt—the one with the alligator, which actually is not an alligator but a crocodile— was depicted, as was the Hershey’s Kiss. The Louisville Slugger baseball bat, wooden of course, made the list, as did the Honey Bear.
The Honey Bear? That is the plastic honey container molded to bear shape and wearing a yellow spout for a hat.
Crayola crayons in their green and yellow box well fit the definition, as do Kleenex tissues and the Slinky. Also in the mix was Barnum’s Animal Crackers, or more correctly, Barnum’s Animals with the word “crackers” inscribed under the banner.
Barnum’s Animals have been with us for 101 years. The box is a wonderment, a circus wagon with pictures of lions and tigers and bears. At one time, the wheels on the four corners of the box popped down, and a string of boxes made a circus train. The box is red and yellow—circus colors—and it even has a string handle for carrying or, it’s original purpose, hanging from a Christmas tree bough.
Inside is the menagerie. According to the book, there are 17 animals but 18 shapes—there are two bears, one standing, and one sitting. I found a koala in the box I bought, so that would make 18 species altogether.
Eighteen animals, can you name them? They are: bear, bison (American buffalo), camel (one hump, please), cougar, elephant, giraffe, gorilla, hippopotamus, hyena, kangaroo, koala bear, lion, monkey, rhinoceros, seal, sheep, tiger and zebra. The monkey is eating a banana, the koala is climbing a tree limb, and the gorilla looks rather pensive. It is anybody’s guess as to how a sheep got mixed in with all those more exotic creatures, but the sheep is there, nonetheless.
They used to cost ten cents; now a box of Barnum’s Animals will set you back a lot more. I paid $.89 for my collection, and they lasted only long enough for me to identify all the creatures and satisfy the mid-morning munchies.
Nabisco, the manufacturer, has never advertised Barnum’s Animals. I guess when you do it right from the beginning, you don’t have to.
Go back and take a closer look at this issue of this magazine. You surely will find some products and advertisers with that quality of quintessence. We would like to think that one day Texoma Living! will have it too.