Artifact Corner: Whitman’s Sampler Book

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Since Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, we thought it would be fun to look at this very small book. This diminutive publication was made to be enclosed in a box of Whitman’s chocolates. Whitman’s started including these small books in their chocolate boxes as a gift called the library chocolates. This particular book is William Shakespeares The Merchant of Venice. This book is small, it was designed to fit in your pocket, and be easily carried with you. The cover of the book is a heavy paper, unlike other books of the time that were bound in leather or a sturdy cardboard. This book was likely made the 19-teens, and was an additional treat in a box of Whitman’s Sampler chocolates. Let’s learn a bit more about Whitman’s, and the books that sometimes accompanied their famous candy.

In 1842 Stephen F. Whitman opened his first “confectionery and fruiterer shop” at Third and Market Streets in Philadelphia. His goal was to compete with the finer French candy makers of the time. They were initially very popular with sailors and subsequently their wives. The sailors would bring exotic fruits and nuts from their travels to Stephen, and he would create beautiful confections from them. Whitman’s produced the first pre-packaged candy in 1854—a box of sugar plums adorned with curlicues and rosebuds. In 1866 Stephen’s son Horace joined him in the candy making business, and Stephen changes the name of his company to Stephen F. Whitman & Son, Inc. In 1877, he introduced Instantaneous Chocolates in tin boxes, that became much-admired. The famous Whitman’s sampler was first introduced to the American market in 1912, and quickly became a popular present.

The Whitman’s sampler is probably the most recognizable product that we know from the company. The iconic yellow box has changed over the last 100 years, but is still appreciable today. The stitching design of the package was inspired by grandma’s needlework. The package of the box resembles the folk art sampler needlework, and included a bird on a branch, a Pegasus, a basket of flowers, a rocking horse, a rocking elephant, plants, a rooster, a dog, a sailboat, a tree, a house, and a bear, hence the double entendre name of the product. It was the first box of chocolates to come equipped with an index of all the varieties of the sampler printed under the lid. The Sampler’s contents vary from box to box, but generally contain milk and dark chocolate-covered caramel, coconut, molasses chew, chocolate-covered peanuts, almonds, cashews, clusters, cherry cordial, maple fudge, chocolate-covered toffee, and nougaty chocolate whipped candies. Seasonal flavors like strawberry cream, pumpkin marshmallow, and mint chocolate patties are occasionally included. The idea to include a book in the box with the chocolates happened before the United States entered the first World War. Initially it was marketed as a library and candies, but in 1917, when the US entered the War, they restyled it as “Service Chocolates.” They stated in advertisements that “nothing is too good for the boys at the front, or in the training camps,” and that “the chocolates are packed especially for them.” The advert also states that “the books are such as would be chosen by the most intelligent army the world has ever seen.” To be perfectly honest, as a book worm, this seems like a fantastic gift! Imagine being far from home, and receiving a package of delicious chocolates that remind you go home, and a pocket sized novel that will hopefully alleviate the tedium of sitting in a trench in France. This package was incredibly popular, and the program continued after the War. They offered a wide selection of books in this series, including Rip Van Winkle, Sherlock Holmes, Idylls of King, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and A Christmas Carol.

We don’t know how this book ended up in our museum, but it is in fantastic condition, given the material it’s made of. The cover is again just a heavy paper, and the pages are a very delicate paper that’s quite thin. This book was obviously cared for, and probably not carried around too much in a pocket. It is a lovely piece, and was likely a well received gift. We are so lucky to have it in our collections. Maybe pick up a box of chocolates for that special someone in your life, and as always, thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,