2017-08-10 / News

Cracker Jack collection on display at Ruth Hughes Library

By Phil Foley
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com


John Wayne Wilcoxson, (right) will display a large portion of his extensive Cracker Jack collection Saturday at the Ruth Hughes Memorial District Library in Imlay City. Wilcoxson said his collection is the largest in Michigan and includes pieces that date back to 1900. It includes prizes and packaging like this one-of-kind (above) box made for circus giveaways. 
Photos by Phil Foley John Wayne Wilcoxson, (right) will display a large portion of his extensive Cracker Jack collection Saturday at the Ruth Hughes Memorial District Library in Imlay City. Wilcoxson said his collection is the largest in Michigan and includes pieces that date back to 1900. It includes prizes and packaging like this one-of-kind (above) box made for circus giveaways. Photos by Phil Foley IMLAY CITY — Who hasn’t crooned about them during the seventh inning stretch of a baseball game or plunged their hand into a box of molasses-coated popcorn and peanuts on a hot summer afternoon to find the prize?

Goodland Township resident John Wayne Wilcoxson will bring his collection of Cracker Jack prizes to the Ruth Hughes Memorial District Library from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 12. Library director Tracy Aldrich said Wayne has “one of the finest and most extensive collections of Cracker Jack prizes anywhere.”

Wilcoxson, who’s been called John Wayne by friends, family and co-workers so long he sometimes forgets his real last name, said his Cracker Jack collection began before he was born. The 62-yearold said his brothers and sisters, who are a decade older, gave him their Cracker Jack toys when he was five.

He’s been collecting ever since.

“We didn’t have much money,” he recalled. “That was our treat. At the end of week we got a Cracker Jack box.”

German immigrant Frederick Rueckheim began making the sweet treat in a Chicago street cart in 1872. The snack got its name in 1896 and the company began putting a small prize in every box in 1900. Since the Cracker Jack had put thousands of prizes in its boxes, ranging from tin whistles and tiny porcelain dolls to puzzles and baseball cards.

According to company legend, a salesman trying the snack at the Columbian Exposition declared it “crackerjack,” slang for excellent at the time and in 1896 Rueckheim trademarked the name.

Over the decades Cracker Jack has put so many different prizes in its boxes nobody, not even Cracker Jack, which is currently owned by Frito-Lay, has a complete collection. Wilcoxson’s collection runs into the thousands including everything from prizes to packages. He has more than 5,000 toys alone. “I’ve never counted them all,” he said.

Wilcoxson keeps his collection in glass trays in plastic totes. ”I don’t display them at the house,” he said.

Wilcoxson estimates his collection is worth about $140,000, but he noted two weeks ago the PBS show Antique Roadshow displayed a collection valued at $500,000. He said a set of 1914 baseball cards has sold for as much as $68,000.

Among Wilcoxson’s rarer items is a cigarette box-size package that was once likely thrown into the crowd at circuses in the 1920s. “There’s an animal on both sides,” he said, noting kids likely cut them out and put them on display.

Wilcoxson has been offered $1,000 for the box by other collectors, who say they’ve never seen another one.

Wilcoxson is one of three members of a Cracker Jack collectors club in Michigan that has 58 members nationwide. He said his daughter has no interest in the collection, so eventually he’ll likely put it up for sale.

The collection is so big, Wilcoxson is not sure he’ll be able to display everything at the Ruth Hughes Library. But he added, the Attica United Methodist Church has asked him to put on a display this fall.

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