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Fake Cracker Jack Memories, or Is It Or Isn't It eBay?

Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 6:54 am
by Jeffrey Maxwell
Luke, I think you mentioned in an earlier thread how you would liked to have gone to some of the first conventions of the Cracker Jack Collectors Association. Let me tell you of some of my memories of Cracker Jack collecting -- most of them real.

One of the most exciting things that ever happened to me out in the field of collecting was when I was traveling to Kansas City for a weekend. Diane and I had stopped at a convenience store near our hotel, and I decided to check and see if they had Cracker Jack. I picked up a box and squeezed it and shook it close to my ear to hear if it had a rattling sound different than popcorn and peanuts, because I was trying to find a Looney Tunes pin ball prize. I had toured the Borden facility in Northbrook, IL along with the gang from the 2nd Annual CJCA Convention -- an experience that I could never compare to anything else -- so I had all the Looney Tunes Stickers I wanted. But they weren't handing out pin ball prizes that day.

The box from the convenience store sounded like it had a pinball in it. So I opened it and sure enough it did. I decided to go back in and see if I could figure out what other boxes had pinballs, because up until that point they were few and far between. It sounded like nearly all of them had pin balls, so I bought all they had on the shelf. We went out to the van and opened them, and surely enough, a large number of them had pin balls. Then I went back inside and asked the convenience store manager if they had any more in the back -- but I only wanted them if they came from the same case. He said that they had made a mistake in ordering the previous week. Instead of ordering one twelve-pack (with a dozen packages), they had ordered a dozen twelve-packs, so they had nearly the whole master case sitting there. I worked out a deal to take them all off his hands, and Diane and I proceeded to open Cracker Jack boxes that evening in the hotel room. I ended up with several sets of Looney Tunes pin balls, some of which I sold in auctions at later CJCA conventions. And all our co-workers and friends ended up with gallon Ziplock bags of Cracker Jack.

That year after I went to the Second CJCA Convention in Chicago, my first convention, I had the opportunity through my university to attend a conference in New Orleans. I had kept in touch with Jim Davis, whom I had met at the CJ convention and sat next to at the banquet. So I called him and told him I would be in his neighborhood. He was an awesome host, and one of my favorite parts of the trip was when I was able to present him with one of the sets of Looney Tunes pin balls that I had collected just weeks before. I learned something very valuable from him, the value of e-mail. We talked back and forth with Gail Sullivan through several e-mail messages that day. When I got back to my job at the university, I immediately requested an e-mail account.

I had known about e-mail, but it had never occurred to me how valuable it would become to me as a collector of Cracker Jack prizes. I printed every CJ e-mail when I started, because I wanted a record of my conversations about different prizes. I had three large boxes of those printouts that sat in my house for more than 10 years before I finally threw them away.

It was not long after that in 1997 when I stumbled across a little website called eBay. It was another new technology that I didn't think much of at first, until I found that there were auctions selling Cracker Jack prizes on there. Most weeks you could find between 20 and 50 "Cracker Jack" items listed on eBay auctions. That was pretty cool, because before eBay and my contacts through the CJCA, my only sources for adding to my collection were local events like flea markets and toy shows. At this point I had the opportunity to buy Cracker Jack prizes every day. That was cool. To put that into perspective, there are over 6,400 "Cracker Jack" items listed on eBay today. However I would estimate as much as one third of those listings are not Cracker Jack, but rather gum machine charms, dime store toys, carnival prizes, and any other small toys that eBay dealers tend to clump into the Cracker Jack class of collectibles.

One day in 1997 Jim contacted me through e-mail to tell me that he recognized me through my user name on eBay. Soon, I learned that we knew almost everyone who were bidding on Cracker Jack prizes -- almost all of them were CJCA members. With today's perspective, isn't it amazing that all of us on there knew each other? Of course that doesn't happen anymore, because you can't see the user names of those you are bidding against, and the number of users is just too great.

The fact that we knew each other -- and tended to avoid stepping on each others toes by not bidding against each other to keep the selling prices low -- probably has a lot to do with why eBay doesn't let us know who we are bidding against these days. It is hard to even know who you are dealing with amongst the sellers of Cracker Jack prizes. I am a seller of Cracker Jack prizes, among other things, on eBay now. Of course I still buy Cracker Jack on eBay whenever there are good deals on things in which I am interested.

Let's go back to my first CJCA Convention for a moment. I had been a collector and casual flea market dealer of various small plastic toys for years before I zoned in on collecting Cracker Jack prizes around 1990, about the time that Alex's book came out. So I jumped in with both feet at the Second Cracker Jack Convention and presented the first "Fake Forum" -- now it's called "Is It Or Isn't It?" I showed differences between new (1980s and '90s) productions of toys that look very similar to Cracker Jack prizes from the 1950s -- including what I would later write my CJ Masters Thesis on, Alphabet Animals. My "Masters Thesis in Cracker Jack" is what would later become Cracker Jack Greetings or The Alphabet26 Museum. (Alphabet26 was the first personal website about collecting Cracker Jack prizes on the Internet, first published in November 1997, the same month as the first CJCA Website was launched. Jim launched his award winning Cracker Jack Box website the following year.)

But once I finished my Fake Forum presentation about the limited area I knew about, I was really happy that Alex Jaramillo was willing to jump in and answer questions collectors in the audience had about older prizes. (It was really cool to meet Alex, because it was his book that really helped me to focus on Cracker Jack over other collectibles I was dabbling with at the time.) I never have been much interested in stuff before the plastic era -- before 1948. But what has helped me every bit as much to recognize modern Cracker Jack prizes is the fact that I know something about non-CJ toys as well -- a lot about what is not Cracker Jack. One year, I think it was at the Dallas Texas CJCA Convention, I handed out complete sets of modern fakes of NOSCO Animal Stand-Ups (ID#1111) to each family at the banquet so they would have some for comparison.

When I first found this online forum, I told someone on here that something they had was not Cracker Jack, because I knew it had been used as a cereal prize. But apparently, it is in the COSI exhibit, and, as a result, in Larry White's book as Cracker Jack. So nowadays, I seldom say "That's not Cracker Jack." I am more apt to say, "That was not likely used in Cracker Jack." Because the honest truth is, there is no one around to tell us without doubt one way or another.

These days, some eBay sellers don't like for their buyers to know much about Cracker Jack prizes. Recently I have been blocked from bidding on auctions of a couple of eBay sellers, I guess because I was too knowledgeable and demanding as a customer. The first dealer recently sold a group of over 120 1950s "Cracker Jack" plastic prizes, something I know a little bit about, and what a disappointment it was when they arrived and they were all fakes! -- much like the reproduction prizes I did the Fake Forum on back in the mid-1990s. I told the dealer that they were not Cracker Jack, and her reply was, "Well they were part of a collection that had a number of prizes marked 'Cracker Jack' and I have sold them to other collectors with no complaints. I told her that I understand that she is not the "expert" in Cracker Jack prizes that I am, but I could not keep these. I had planned on reselling the duplicates to help pay for my purchase, and I have no interest in selling fake Cracker Jack prizes. She did take them back, but I ended up footing the bill for shipping -- both ways. She has them offered for sale on eBay as "Buy It Now" today -- look out for the green and yellow NOSCO look-alikes.

The second eBay seller -- selling a high volume of only Cracker Jack prizes out of Kansas City -- sent a group of plastic prizes to me that I had won through an auction. About 20 percent of the prizes were broken, literally chunks broken off of some of them, but I left a positive feedback rating stating that I was satisfied with the ones that were not broken at the price I paid, so I'll just keep them. He immediately blocked me from bidding on his future auctions and I can't even send him a message through eBay now. Shame on him! When you handle something as much as he does, you know when part of it is missing -- he should have known that there were so many damaged ones, and he should have put that in his Item Description.

Now it's just another story to add to my collection. After living in the Amazon Jungle for the past five years, since April 2007, I came to miss Cracker Jack and all my Cracker Jack friends. I am happy to be back, and look forward to making many new Cracker Jack Memories -- most of them real.

Re: Fake Cracker Jack Memories, or Is It Or Isn't It eBay?

Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 7:28 am
by Luke
That was a great read, thank you for taking the time to type it up. You came along way from not being Internet savvy to creating the first great Cracker Jack website, The Alphabet26 Museum. I'm so glad that Alex gave us the heads up to save your museum, and host it here. Your website as well as Jim's inspired me to create one for Carey Cloud.

In less than a week, it will be the 15th anniversary of The Alphabet26 Museum. So let me be the first to say Happy Anniversary!!!

Re: Fake Cracker Jack Memories, or Is It Or Isn't It eBay?

Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 8:55 am
by dianep2
Jeffrey, thank you for your very informative and fun to read post. I have been fortunate enough to attend every convention and each and every one has been full of lasting memories. I also remember standing in groceery stores with a box of CJ pressed to my ear in an effort to hear the ball bearing rolling around inside. Fellow customers pushing carts past me gave me some pretty weird looks. But I didn't care. Those people just didn't understand the passion with which all CJ collectors are possessed.

Thank you for sharing your e-bay experiences as well. And I sure hope we shall all see you in June for some more CJCA Convention memory collecting.

Re: Fake Cracker Jack Memories, or Is It Or Isn't It eBay?

Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 6:22 pm
by Jeffrey Maxwell
Thanks Luke! I really hadn't thought about it being the 15th Anniversary of Alphabet26. That was great timing, even though it wasn't planned. Thanks to you and the CJCA for preserving a part of Cracker Jacking history that is important to me, if not others. Not too many people know that there is more to the story of alphabet prizes that I didn't get around to telling -- yet.

Sister Di. I love you. I mentioned that I sat next to Jim Davis at the first convention I went to. But every convention I attended with my wife Diane (Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Dallas) we sat at the same table with you. I remember Diane always called you "Lady Di." That was before you got into the habit. ;)

Re: Fake Cracker Jack Memories, or Is It Or Isn't It eBay?

Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 6:36 pm
by dianep2
Oh Jeffrey, thank you for sharing such a great memory. If I was Lady Di, Diane was certainly Princess Di. Your "habit" comment is hilarious. Great play on words. Now promise all of us we'll see you in June. Please try to join us. Everyone would love seeing you :!: :!: :!: :!:

Re: Fake Cracker Jack Memories, or Is It Or Isn't It eBay?

Posted: Tue Nov 27, 2012 10:15 pm
by Donovan
Neat stories, thanks for sharing. I wish I could pick your brain someday about the early plastic prizes. I noticed at the Alphabet Museum, you have many of the prizes grouped differently (and in a way that makes more sense to me), than the CJ book does.

Re: Fake Cracker Jack Memories, or Is It Or Isn't It eBay?

Posted: Sat Dec 22, 2012 10:21 pm
by Jeffrey Maxwell
Donovan, I would be happy to discuss Cracker Jack prizes with you anytime. To tell you the truth, I refer to my own web pages regularly to remember what I wrote. (Thanks, Luke and CJCA, for saving it.) Great care was taken to present accurate information there, acquired from the best sources possible.

Now, I will say one thing about Larry's book. While there are problems there, it was an incredible undertaking under what I assume was great pressure from the publisher. My area of study was/is only in a tiny period of Cracker Jack history. Larry tried to deal with "everything" -- something I wouldn't want to tackle. His current idea of doing a CD-ROM is probably a good one. I need to order it from him so I can see what has changed.