Packaging Zippos


Kleenex I’ve already done one post on the subject of packaging and cigarette lighters, but I happened upon this Zippo Gallery site and was… I don’t know… charmed by its collection of engraved and enameled advertising lighters… with a preponderance of promotional packaging illustrations. (The lighters pictured here, date from 1952 to 1974)

The weird thing is, even though I’ve never smoked, looking at these pictures, I can almost smell the lighter fluid and hear the steel clink of these things flipping open and closed.

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

Found: The S.O.S Missing Link!

On left: early S.O.S box design (from a vintage ad for sale on eBay); center: an ad from featuring the elusive 1959 box design pictured in the “Kitchen Debate” photo; on right: a somewhat vintage box, which still resembles current S.O.S packaging (from NY Times The Moment blog)

Success! Well, sort of

Last Friday, Richard Shear and I coincidentally put up two, very similar posts on our respective packaging blogs. His post, “S.O.S saves the Western World” and my post, “S.O.S at the 1959 Kitchen Debate” were both inspired by that day’s NY Times editorial page and both featured William Safire’s famous black & white photo of Nixon and Khrushchev talking in front of a simulated “typical American” kitchen. In each of our posts, we naturally focused on the very graphic looking S.O.S box, but neither of us had managed to find any other photos of the box.

Yesterday I spent even more time looking and, as a testament to the depth and breadth of my obsessive-compulsive ways, I finally turned up some vintage ads with color illustrations of this apparently rare version of the box. Still don’t know who (or what agency) might have designed it. (I’m thinking maybe: Sterling Cooper?)

from Way Back Vintage Ads

(A few more S.O.S ads, after the fold…)

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Don Porcella’s Polybagged Pipe Cleaner Pieces

Don Porcella: woven pipe cleaner action figures, etc.

This weekend I met artist, Don Porcella, but, until I visited his web site, I had no idea that he made packaging-related artwork. His pipe cleaner sculptures run the gamut from large, life-sized figures to smaller “action figures.” These smaller “action figures” are contained in polybags with handmade header cards.

Polybags and header cards have this culturally charged thing. A lowly, low-tech form of packaging that’s simultaneously shoddy and alluring. Put something in this type of package and, on some level, you are saying: “For sale—cheap.” (See Magnetic Packages and also: Dana Wyse) Unlike real polybagged products, however, Porcella’s packaging is part of the artwork, and not meant to be opened. (Like collectible toys, as difficult as it is for us not to open the package, these things mean more if they’re still factory-sealed in their original packaging.)

(A couple more of Porcella’s package-related, pipe-cleaner pieces, after the fold…)

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Can Lid Coasters


I just noticed this early package reuse idea on a vintage Planters Peanuts can from The American Packaging Museum. The lid can be used as a coaster.

Strikes me that they were striving for something along the lines of the popular jelly-jar-glass idea. As “handy” as this coaster may have been, I suspect that people were not as enthusiastic about the idea of setting their jelly jar glasses on tin can lids.

Still, if you need one of these vintage advertising coasters, they are there to be found (for $9.99) on eBay….


Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

S.O.S at the 1959 Kitchen Debate


In the OP-Ed section today’s NY Times, William Safire has a fascinating account of how he came to take the iconic photo of Nixon & Khrushchev discussing the kitchen of the “typical American home” in the 1959 exhibition at Sokolniki Park in Moscow. Awesome product placement for S.O.S (and for future Russian leader, Leonid Brezhnev, as well). Some excerpts:

I was in that kitchen, not because I then had anything to do with Nixon, the exhibition’s official host, but as a young press agent for the American company that built the house. The exhibit was designed to show Russians that free enterprise produced goods that made life better for average Americans…

Nixon: “I want to show you this kitchen. It’s like those of houses in California. See that built-in washing machine?”

Khrushchev: “We have such things.”

Nixon: “What we want to do is make more easy the life of our housewives.”

Khrushchev: “We do not have the capitalist attitude toward women.”

… Because the Russian press had derided the American claim that the house was affordable to workers — calling it “a Taj Mahal” — Nixon noted that this house cost $14,000, and a government-guaranteed veterans mortgage made it possible for a steelworker earning $3 an hour to buy it for $100 a month. Khrushchev was sarcastic: “We have peasants who also can afford to spend $14,000 for a house.”

… originally slugged “the Sokolniki summit” but Harrison was willing to change that slug-line to the equally alliterative “kitchen conference” at my plea (my client was the house builder, not Nixon and certainly not the Russian park).

… A few hours after the kitchen conference, at our ambassador’s residence, I was introduced to Nixon, who showed his grasp of capitalism’s priorities by commenting, “We really put your kitchen on the map, didn’t we?”

William Safire NY Times
The Cold War’s Hot Kitchen
NY Times, July 23, 2009

Funny how “modern conveniences” and consumer packaged goods figured into the idealogical debates of that period…

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

Live Package Biodegradation Webcam

HelpDecomposing Help Remedies’ newly redesigned molded pulp packaging has already been widely celebrated on plenty of other packaging blogs.

I haven’t much to add, except to point out that, on their web site, they have an interesting live webcam focused on one of their packages, in the process of decomposing in a compost heap. Not the usual hero product shot, but sort of cool none-the-less. A little like watching an early Andy Warhol film. (Think: Sleep or Empire)

Having lately studied up on landfills, I feel compelled to point out that, unless you personally see to it that your discarded paper packaging (or corn-based bio plastic packaging) is actually composted, decomposition is, by no means, guaranteed. Landfill conditions are usually more apt to entomb paper for decades, rather then facilitate much in the way of decomposition.


(via: Lovely Package)

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

Clicker Cans

Photos of 1980s Coke and Dr Pepper “Clicker Cans” from USA

I must have missed these in the early 80s when they came out. Interesting to note it now, in light of all the recent resealable-can ideas that have garnered attention. (See: Burn Energy Drink and Monster Energy Drink or this Pop Top Ad concept, or this Snap Cap attachment for cans)

The fact that these were put on the market in the 80s, but did not (apparently) catch on, maybe says something about the relative importance of this feature. From T. A. Turner’s book, Canmaking for Can Fillers:

Reclosable (and resealable) ends

ClickerCanCaption A number of reclosable ends have been proposed of varying complexity and made entirely from metal or from a combination of metal and plastic. However, it must be stressed that the successful development of a reclosable end will depend as much on market needs as on technical excellence:

  • Does the market actually need a reclosable or a resealable end?
  • Do the fillers of beverage cans want either a reclosable or a resealable end; if they do, are they prepared to pay a premium for it, because it will certainly be more expensive?
  • Are there special needs?
Under the heading ‘special needs’ would be included cans for outdoor activities (such as picnics and barbecues) where, for example, preventing insects (eg wasps) entering partially consumed drinks is claimed to be an issue… If the need is real, can the additional cost of such devices be justified when a simple plastic overcap, purchased for the occasion, may suffice? It is also true that a slightly larger tab, without the finger hole (which is now no longer functional), rotated through 180 would also keep out all but the smallest ‘intruders’.

Reclosable or partially reclosable features suggested have included screw-on closures (such as crowns), modified tabs, wasp-proof screens and sophisticated plastic button devices such as Continental Can’s clicker cap (see Figure 6.21). A number of novel developments to produce bottle-shaped containers in metal, with long necks of greatly reduced diameter, have appeared during recent years. In addition, a cone-topped beer can (the original beer-can format in the period 1940-50) has been relaunched, on a limited scale, in South Africa. These containers are easier to drink from and also provide the opportunity for alternative closures. The downside is that filling speeds are likely to be slower and that transportation (of empty containers) and presentation in the marketplace may have to be different.

T. A. Turner
Canmaking for Can Fillers

It could also be that the reason the 1980s clicker cans did not “catch on” may be that they look too much like one of these.

(A couple more photos after the fold…)

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Aerosol String Cans

AerosolStringCans On left: a flattened can of “Streamer String” I found in my neighborhood; on right: a vintage can of Wham-O “Silly String” available on eBay for $225.

Walking the dog this weekend, I found a crushed can of aerosol string on the street. This is one of those products that would not even be a product, except for the packaging. Can you imagine anyone buying this stuff pre-extruded on a roll? Like Pez candy, it’s all about the delivery method.

Not too great, graphically, although the multi-colored string-lines did
catch my eye—(there in the gutter, by the fire hydrant on Van Duzer). With
multi-colored type treatments like this, it seems like there’s always
gonna be one color that’s too light for good contrast. (Like the “a” in
eBay’s logo.)
At any rate, it’s not featured here for its graphic design, but
as a point of entry.

 Silly String (on the right) was the original aerosol string product. Invented by Leonard A. Fish and Robert P. Cox—(see their patent below)—who assigned the rights to Wham-O in 1972. Streamer String is one of the surviving, imitation brands.


(Silly String TV Commercial, after the fold…)

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Package as meaningful object


I recently purchased and read this book by Joshua Glenn & Carol Hayes: Taking Things Seriously, 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance.

The concept as presented in Joshua Glenn’s introduction:

“Step into the living room, study, office, studio, or den of just about any engaged, imaginative, passionate individual and you’ll gravitate toward an item that, although it might not appear particularly valuable, is reverently displayed as if it were a precious and irreplaceable artifact. Inquire about the object’s provenance and you’ll be treated to a lively anecdote about how it came into your host’s possession. Keep digging, and you might crack the code of what the thing means.”

A very nice object in it’s own right, this book, designed by Carol Hayes, includes photos of the 75 (unexpectedly significant) objects, each with an accompanying explanation.

By my reckoning, some 20% of the objects featured in the book are packages. Maybe 16 out of 75. Okay, not all the objects included in my count are full-fledged retail packages—(like the Zippy bottle on page 22 or the Velveeta Cheese box on page 50, above). But how else would you classify an object like “a rock wrapped in a pie tin” (page 116) or a tiny piece of pottery (page 100) that turns out to be the perfect container for a specific broken marble?

Tell a new acquaintance that you design packages for a living, and you’re likely to get a blank look in reply. We’re surrounded by packaging, but, like water to a school of fish, it’s pretty much invisible to us as we’re swimming around in it. Still, with packages so prevalent in our environment, how could they not occasionally become meaningful to us? Not meaningful in the way that the designer or the manufacturer intended. Meaningful in some other, more personal way. Consider Jennifer Alden’s favorite glass jar:

I few years ago I started collecting jars. Not antique jars, but jars of pickles, jam, mustard, capers, maraschino cherries. I was inspired by my grandfather, who recycled food jars to store his nails, washers, nuts and bolts. A new jar calls out to me every time I shop at the grocery store. I take it home, and after we’ve eaten its contents, I gently wash it and removed its label by soaking it in hot soapy water.

Of the dozens I have collected, this one is the most beautiful, the most divine. I don’t remember what this particular jar held, and the only clue is some cryptic marks surrounding the number 7 on the bottom. The diameter of the jar’s mouth, the gentle rising threads, the width-to-height-to-depth ratio of the factory molded glass, it’s breathtaking simplicity, combine to create a sensation in my mouth, a taste in my throat, that I can’t make anyone else understand.

Taking Thing Seriously 
Jennifer Alden (page 96: glass jar)

I learned about this book via the related Significant Objects web site. The idea there is similar, except that, while the objects featured on the web site are real enough—(and for sale), the stories about them are fictional. Check it out.

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

The Göbellamp Bottle


If you read Thursday’s light bulb bottles post all the way to the “footnoted digression” at the end, then you know what this is. I found an actual photo of the “Göbellamp” light-bulb / eau-de-cologne bottle. (I’m guessing it’s a recreation of the 1854 prototype.) More photos of Heinrich Göbel’s arcane apparatus can be seen: here.

And as long as I’m tying up loose ends in connection with light bulbs and packaging… Here’s a link to where you’ll find instructions for using a jar to make your own incandescent bulb.

Also: instructions (here) for making these “Weeble” salt and pepper shakers from light bulbs (below).


(Here on box vox, we are all about the light bulbs, the salt & pepper and the weebles.)

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

Fruit Faces & Faux Crate Box


BR&Me’s redesign for Capri Sun:  while there’s plenty of precedent for anthropomorphized fruit faces —(See: Pillsbury “Funny Face”)— I think that their idea of using a fruit slice as a smile is good one, and I do like the simplicity of the hand drawn eyes and lines at the corners of the mouths—(sort of like this guy). One thing I question: are the smiles as instantly recognizable as they should be?


Regarding the faux fruit crate box: naturally, I like the cross-referential package posing as another type of package. Plus it’s another example of a faux die cut window. The leaf-mustache detail is cute. Not 100% sold on the typography.

via DesignWeek and PopSop

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design