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Circa 1900 "Uneeda Biscuit Boy" Original Painting
Starting Bid - $2,000.00, Sold For - $8,812.50
Original oil on board painting (15.25 x 23.25 inches) of the famed "Uneeda Biscuit Boy," the corporate symbol of the National Biscuit Company since 1901 and, in the early part of the century, the single most famous advertising icon in the world. The Uneeda Biscuit Boy, in fact, was the icon which represented and was used in the very first national advertising campaign ever for any product. Dressed in his familiar yellow rain slicker and cap, the "Uneeda Boy" (or "Slicker Boy," as he was often called) is one of the most significant icons in the history of American advertising. In the early part of the century, the Uneeda Boy was used extensively to promote many National Biscuit Company products and was the most famous advertising icon in the world. His image still appears on packages of Uneeda Biscuits today.
The painting is signed in the lower right by Fredric Stanley, a very highly respected early commercial artist who legend has it was a mentor of Norman Rockwell, and who himself later became a Saturday Evening Post cover artist. This painting has been consigned directly from the personal collection of Mr. Wayne Guest, former Vice President of Nabisco, and has been in his sole possession for over thirty years. Prior to being presented to him as a special gift, the painting hung in special places of honor in the offices of top Nabisco company officers. It is believed that this is the only painting commissioned for the original ad campaign and it was this very painting that was used for all later advertising purposes over the years. Upon close inspection one will notice that the Uneeda Biscuit box the boy is holding here is not part of the painting, but is in fact a removable die-cut mock-up of the box. This design was intentional, as it allowed the advertising department the flexibility to produce promotional displays picturing the "Uneeda Boy" holding any one of the company's hundreds of backed goods and products. Another interesting aspect of this piece is that the wooden frame housing the painting was crafted from wood salvaged from one of the company's very early wooden carts that moved boxes of packaged goods in its plants. The consignor had the painting restored in 1981 and later had the frame refinished in 1986. Included with the painting is a handwritten letter from Mr. Guest providing detail of its rich history and historic provenance. 15.25 x 23.5 inches. Framed to total dimensions of 17 x 25 inches.
The company's famous advertising symbol, featuring a young boy in rain gear holding a box of crackers, had a great and very specific meaning in the early part of the century. At the turn of the century, crackers and biscuits were sold to retailers in large barrels, which were then meted out by grocers to consumers in paper bags. This form of distribution did nothing to protect biscuits from moisture, and consequently often left consumers with stale and soggy crackers. In about 1900 the National Biscuit Company (formed in 1898) developed a unique packaging method for crackers and baked goods that featured a moisture-proof "In-er-Seal" waxed-paper liner. That innovation literally revolutionized the cracker and biscuit business, allowing the company to preserve the freshness of its goods for an extended period of time, and to keep the biscuits crisp and free of moisture. This is something that we take for granted today, but it was a very big deal to consumers long ago. This innovation set the stage for The National Biscuit Company to develop a national distribution network for baked goods under a single larger corporate umbrella, with economies of scale and providing national advertising, which previously did not exist, as opposed to only very small bakeries catering to local demand. The message of the Uneeda Biscuit Boy symbol was that the National Biscuit Company products are fresh and free of moisture - even in the rain!
Accompanying the painting is a fascinating historical archive relating to the Uneeda Boy. Most are unaware - and were it not for the information revealed in these files we would be unaware as well - that the image of the "Uneeda Boy" was based on a real person. In fact, the internal company documents which accompany the painting not only identify the boy, but provide a great deal of additional information that otherwise might never be known. The boy's name was Gordon Stille, who in 1900 was the five-year old nephew of an advertising agency executive working on the campaign at the time. Stille, a native of Philadelphia, was photographed in 1900 wearing a raincoat, hat and boots while holding a package of biscuits, exactly as he appears in the painting. His family received $100 for the project, a considerable sum at the time. The photograph taken was then used to create the painting of the famous Uneeda Biscuit Boy advertising symbol. Included with the artwork is a period photographic print of Stille posing as the "Uneeda Biscuit Boy" as well as an archive of legal documents (fifteen documents, most but not all in the form of copy letters) relating to the trademark of the "Uneeda Boy" by the National Biscuit Company. In 1948 the company requested Stille's cooperation for legal reasons, as they were required by law to renew the copyright for the advertising icon every twenty-one years and to do so as required by the then-newly enacted Federal trademark guidelines passed in July 1947. The new guidelines required the consent of a living person if the image of a still living person were to be registered as a trademark. Mr. Stille, at this point a grown man and in very poor health, felt that he was cheated by the company and not adequately compensated for the use of his image. He wanted compensation! A series of letters from 1948 reveals that he refused to sign a consent form (allowing the company to reregister his image as a company trademark) unless he received more money from them. Internal company correspondence is naturally very concerned with this turn of events. The Philadelphia-area representative dispatched to meet with Stille wanted to come to terms but Mr. Stille was not able to communicate what would make him happy. Subsequent communication to Gordon Stille from the NBC legal department tries to bully him and suggests that his years-earlier previous consent was really sufficient to establish his current consent, and that they would appreciate and expect his cooperation. The National Biscuit Company legal department does not offer any financial incentive to Stille whatsoever. It appears that Stille passed away very soon after without the issue ever being resolved. In addition to the document archive, the painting is also accompanied by sixty National Biscuit Company product advertising inserts (60), most of which feature the "Uneeda Boy," a "Uneeda Boy" letter opener, and a copy of the book Out of the Cracker Barrel, The Nabisco Story From Animal Crackers To ZuZus (William Cahn, Simon & Schuster, 1978) featuring the "Uneeda Boy" on the cover. Reserve $2,500. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $8,812.50
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