Kitchen Kitsch

Jelly jar glasses populated the cupboards of the 1950s.
In the early days of television, Welch’s sold jelly jars that were keepers.

Decades before there were Happy Meals, Welch’s Grape Jelly was the mother of cross-promotion targeted to children.

For the past 62 years, a new jar of Welch’s Grape Jelly has held out the magical promise of turning an ordinary jar into a juice glass adorned with colorful, images of popular kid-culture characters — a bonus for consuming the sweet, purple yumminess within.

From now through Thanksgiving, a collection of Welch’s Grape Jelly glasses and Welch’s advertising art will be on display at the Woodman Museum in Dover.

That collection belongs to Ann Landry, 52, of Dover, and represents only a fraction of her 320-glass collection.

For Landry, the vessels are like Proust’s madeleine — instantly catapulting adults back to a warm, happy childhood sweetened with Wonder Bread PB&Js consumed while watching “Howdy Doody” or “The Flintstones.”

“It is a nostalgia thing. Or at least it started that way,” says Landry, mother of two teens, who has been collecting for 24 years. “I was at a flea market and saw an Archie juice glass I remembered as a 6 year old. I just had to have it. I bought it and it’s been going on ever since.”

Landry, a former special education teacher, explains that the Welch’s company started in 1869 when Thomas Bramwell Welch pasteurized Concord grape juice to make a non-alcoholic, sacramental wine. In 1918 the Welch’s Company began making grape jam.

But it wasn’t until the early days of television that the company came up with the concept of cross-promotion. The company sponsored the “Howdy Doody Show” in 1951 and three years later they issued their first of a series of “Howdy Doody” jars that when emptied became colorful, character-festooned “Howdy Doody” glasses. It was ingenious. The more jelly kids ate and the quicker they ate it, the more glasses they could collect. And as incentive to drink their juice in the morning (hopefully grape juice), a surprise stamp of a character’s face was imprinted on the bottom of the glass.

Welch’s still makes the jelly jars. There have been two dozen sets issued since the ’50s, including “Davy Crockett,” “The Flintstones,” “Archie,” “Warner Brothers” and “Peanuts” — all of which are represented in this exhibit.

Thom Hindle, curator of the museum, was smitten when he first saw the glasses after the director of the museum put out a call for local collectors to display at the museum. Landry’s husband David, a volunteer at the museum, instantly thought of his wife’s jelly jars.

“I remembered going to the store with my mother when I was a kid to make sure she bought the right jelly jar so we didn’t get the same glass that we already had,” says Hindle. “I also remembered visiting my grandmother in Massachusetts and telling my parents that we had to be there in time to watch ‘Howdy Doody.’ So many people see the exhibit and instantly start reminiscing.”

And yes, Landry does let her family drink out of the glasses. “What’s the point of having them if you don’t use them? They are glasses after all. I’ve only had one that broke, but I replaced it right away. The glasses cost about $3 to $5 each. That’s not a fortune.” 

 

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