Early Can-Opener Patents


Delving deeper into the subject of “packaging-related products” I bring you the patented “can opener.” Many were invented—but not until some 30 years after the invention of the can itself! Soldiers supplied with early canned food during the Napoleonic Wars (in cylindrical tin or wrought-iron canisters) “had to cut the cans open with bayonets or smash them open with rocks.” 

Still, “the can” caught on, despite difficulty opening and the occasional lead poisoning of arctic expeditions. (Photos of some later arctic exploration canned goods: here)

At any rate, as the iPod begat iPod accessories, so too did “the can” serve as the mother of innumerable inventions.

(Seven more early can-opener patents follow, after the fold…)

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Package-Related Consumer Products


Top left: Plastic Multi-opener from AbleData.com; top right: bottle-shaped “Wine Bottle Accessory Kit” from Sirtified.com; 2nd row left: “Bull’s Head” can opener from the 1800s; on right: generic package opener (and, yes, it is ironic that it’s packaged in a difficult to open clamshell); 3rd row left: Tube-squeezers from Roadsidepictures’ Flickr Photostream; on right: Mighty-Grip Jar Opener pack from Pinetree4’s Flickr Photostream; bottom: Frog Can Crusher (another photo of this product on Amazon.com: here)

I’ve been meaning to say something about products, created to use in conjunction with packaging. The most obvious examples are openers. (can openers, bottle openers, etc.)

But there are also products that go beyond the opening of the package: products intended to help us get our money’s worth out of a packaged product (the tube squeezers above, for example); products that are intended to help us handle a packaged product in daily use (milk carton holders & milk pouch pitchers, for example); products that are intended to assist in the recycling of packages. Not to mention, all those package-related kitchen aids intended for the mobility and disability equipment market. 

Intrigued by the self-referential idea of a packaged product that would not exist except for packaging, I’m thinking this post may be an introduction to a new recurring theme…

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

Fruit Juice Water Towers


An interestingly micro/macro illustration concept. Similar to Tropicana’s beloved orange-with-straw thing*, only bigger. (Package design by Buenos Aires-based Hangar Studio for Cambria Juices.)

Of course, if there really were such a thing as a fruit juice tower, then pear juice, orange juice and apple juice would all be on tap, piped into our homes and we would not need these juice cartons. (via the Dieline)

See more “water tower packaging” on boxvox: here.

(Footnote & Tropicana-related digression, after the fold…)

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Weather and Medicine Signals for Daily Reference


More anthropomorphic patent medicines from a turn-of-the-century trade card. Here we have a group of “peaceable packages” doing a sort of maypole dance around the world—in contrast to the combative “pugilistic packaging” of earlier this month. (Ayer’s trade card photos via Dave’s Great Cards)

We've covered other examples of dancing packages here. Usually these are cigarette packs, although they too have, at times, been ascribed with attractive-sounding medicinal properties.

The analogy being advanced in the trade card above is between weather warning flags and medical symptoms:

“Nature has its own code of cautionary signals. Pains in the forehead, sneezing, chilliness, lassitude, oppressed breathing, redness and suffusion of the eyes, soreness of the throat, hoarseness, and coughing, are indicative of Colds of various stages of progress. Colds and Coughs are themselves cautionary signs not to be disregarded.”

See some actual J. C. Ayer & Co. packaging: here.

(See the front and back of this trade card in its entirety, after the fold…)

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Dissected Packaging


Erik Boker’s “Product Dissections, Part I” have appeared in a number of other blogs. (I first learned about them on Sylvain Allard’s Packaging|Uqam blog) I like these and I’m hoping that “Part I” means that Boker will be dissecting other packaged products in the near future. They certainly illustrate the package-as-body concept. (Or do they illustrate the package-as-animal concept?)

I’ve written elsewhere about striped toothpaste—how there is something cool and surprising about seeing a pattern emerge where you would ordinarily expect a homogenized substance and about how this magic trick of packaging inevitably makes one wonder just how it was done. Boker’s photos wryly address that curiosity, in his words, “offering a revealed view within the plastic skins of what we consume.”

The “dissection” metaphor is interesting applied to packaging. A lot of packages feature windows, offering the consumer a glimpse of what’s contained within. I noticed that this recent illustration by Minh Uong (below) for the New York Times used the dissection metaphor.


Are there any packages out there in the marketplace that deliberately reveal their contents in a similar manner? Doubtful. Definitely too visceral for food packaging. Can you imagine dissection-themed meat packaging? Although there have been a number of packaged products that do allude to dissection and not always metaphorically…

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bar codes

I noticed the other day that on the back of my Encyclopedia Wine bottle (can you guess my ulterior motives for buying that exact brand? Hmm?) even the bar code was made into that distinctive Erlenmeyer Flask/decanter shape. Alas, in my zeal to denude the bottle of stickers, I tore off the label before I got a picture of it. When I find my camera and buy another bottle of wine, I'll be sure to document it carefully.

In the meantime, I have been looking at some fairly cool barcode designs. Barcodes seem to be taken in two philosophical directions; on the one hand, some designers have taken the time to prettify this necessary bit of packaging, thus unifying it with the overall design of the product and taking advantage of the space to express the product's uniqueness. On the other hand, barcodes are seen as a symbol of uniformity and consumerism, and are appropriated as such in art. It's really wonderful how much has been done with a bit of design that was conceived for purely functional reasons.

Coke-bottle shaped barcode on a can of coke, uploaded by Flickr user Disco Suicide.

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Little Liquor Bottles

Jagermeifter2 A few months ago we went to lunch at the coffee shop across from Tappen Park. As we were walking by the bank on the way back, I spotted this little 4 inch tall Jägermeister bottle. Noticing the stag on the label with the cross in its antlers, I picked the bottle up, but then—(contemplating the implications of putting it into my coat pocket)—I decided, “I’ll pass” and I dropped it back where I found it at the base of a newly planted tree. (The city recently planted a bunch of new trees on Beach Street.)

The next day was Saturday, and taking the dog for a walk I reconsidered my aversion and walked purposefully back to the spot and pocketed the little (mostly empty) bottle, after all.

I’m no teetotaler, but apparently miniature liquor bottles carry a negative connotation in my mind. Why is this type of packaging something to be ashamed of? (Another example of packaging & moral turpitude?) Why does the alcoholic keep his can of beer or his bottle of wine concealed in a brown paper bag? Who buys little bottles of liquor? Hardcore alcoholics. (Unless you’re riding in an airplane.) Ironic that a wee, small bottle carries a heavier stigma than a large quart but there it is. If I go across the park to the liquor store and buy a liter of vodka to bring home and put in the liquor cabinet, I’m a respectable family man. But if I go to the same store and buy a 50 mL vodka bottle to put into my pocket for consumption that day…

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DIY Bling Water


Apropos of “bling” packaging during the economic downturn, it recently occurred to me that what’s called for now is DIY bling water. Rather than shelling out the big bucks for bottles of Swarovski crystal-encrusted BlingH2O brand, I have begun to customize all of my needlessly bottled water with inexpensive recessionary bling. (Available here, for example)

Unfortunately, my bottle of packaged water above has an expiration date of Aug 04, 2008—but kustom-krystalize yourself a Sigg bottle, fill it from the tap — and your bling water will always be fresh.

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

Mr. Pritt


Top left: Pritt Stick assembly line, circa 1969; top right: earliest Pritt Stick packaging; below that: labeling design changes from 1969–2000; lower left: Mr. Pritt as costumed package mascot; lower right: Russian Cosmonaut Yury Usachev, weightless with Pritt Stick in 2001

Mr. Pritt is the anthropomorphic package mascot for Pritt, an adhesive brand owned by German-based Henkel International. Henkel invented the world’s first glue stick using a lipstick-style applicator in 1969.

I was not the familiar with the Pritt brand, but their history touches on a number of pet boxvox topics:

1. They use an anthropomorphic package as their brand mascot.

2. Sometimes “Mr. Pritt” makes personal appearances as an actor in trade-dress costume

3. Pritt products went to outer space in a Soyuz rocket with Russian Cosmonauts 

March 2001 literally launched Pritt as a “Universe-wide” brand! On March 17, 2001 at precisely 09:23, a Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodome in Kazakhstan carrying a cargo of Pritt products bound for the International Space Station (ISS). On board, Russian Cosmonaut Yury Usachev, Commander of the ISS, personally tested the Pritt products. Both Pritt Stick and Pritt Rollers (Glue and Correction) were tested upon rigorous daily use under zero-gravity and other extreme conditions of space and officially awarded the exclusive seal of “Space Proof Quality”.

(More about Mr. Pritt, after the fold…)

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Amp Can


In preparation for my “Songs about Packaging” September performance (on top of Fresh Kills Landfill) I’ve been looking into battery-powered amps. Although the landfill is a good source of methane (and is already heating 22,000 homes a day here on Staten Island)—there is no place to “plug in” on top of a capped garbage mound. So, rather than go acoustic, I’m thinking a Fender “AmpCan” might be the appropriate choice. An amplifier designed to resemble a can of house paint—(packaged in a cardboard carton).

It seems to be a discontinued product, although it’s still featured on Fender’s Australian web site. I got mine on eBay. Like a lot of music products, the graphics are sort of lame. Embossed-label typography in the manner of a punk fanzine. Radial Japanese-rising-sun-style bursts. And silhouettes. Can’t decide which silhouette I should be identifying with: the guitar rocker or the skater guy? (The rechargeable battery in this thing is heavy in the way that a car battery is heavy, so I can’t really see it as a great thing to skate-board with—unless your were doing some tricks requiring extreme ballast.) Not sure yet if I am OK with the tone. Further experimentation is needed to see whether this amp will serve on top of the landfill.

Still, it’s got 2 channels: one for vocals—one for guitar, and it’s shaped like a paint can!

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design