As a candy collector, I’m often asked whether I save actual edible candy or just the packaging. My answer usually goes that I’m technically a candy packaging collector, so I always try to separate a wrapper or box from the confection it contains. Excepting in rare cases, I almost never save the contents.
I think the only way to be sure of preservation is to operate with a never-save-the-candy rule. I’ve even cracked open seemingly-stable, decades-old candy packages that other folks have lovingly saved unopened. That has led to laments by some at my unsealing what you might call a “mint in package” candy bar or pack of bubblegum. And while I do understand the sadness at seeing something whole made less-so, my goal is always long-term preservation.
With today’s post, I hope to make a compelling (and pretty gross) case as to why saving unopened candy can be a very bad idea.
Fellow collector Darlene Lacey from the The Candy Wrapper Museum has this to say about aging candy:
“One thing I learned the hard way is that no matter how chemically inert or unresembling food a candy product might be, it will eventually become molecularly unstable and turn into a hideous, sticky goo.”
I have to agree with Darlene’s statement as I have seen it come to disgusting fruition numerous times. But rather than take my word for it, today I’m going to show you a series of photos of old candy that probably should have been emptied before it was stored away. [Note: Early last year I did an extensive piece dedicated to a group of 30-year old chocolate bars that I carefully opened - definitely worth checking out if you're interested in this topic.]
Before I get to the gross stuff (and give you one more chance to back down from reading further) I figured I’d show you an example of a pretty well-preserved piece of unopened candy. This is a box of Ferrara Pan Jaw Breakers from the 1960’s. And other than some fading and maybe flaking of the candy, it looks pretty solid:
That Jawbreakers box is the one pretty picture today, and from here it’s going to get a little gross.
Last chance to turn back. No? Did I say a little gross. Scratch that… it’s going to get very gross.
One category of vintage confection which seems to suffer greatly from turning bad is soft-chunk bubble gum like Bubble Yum, Bubblicious and Hubba Bubba. I’ve tried to figure out if temperature or humidity is the determining factor in what turns a nice looking pack of gum into a soft sludgy mess, but after quite a few amateur experiments I’m still unsure. All I know is that sometimes they turn quick and sometimes it takes a very long time. But they almost always start transforming into a syrup.
The other aspect of this is that when a piece goes bad and starts seeping a syrupy substance it runs the risk of not only damaging its own wrapper but any other pieces stored or displayed nearby. It always reminds me of a quote from the 1987 film The Lost Boys by the character Edgar Frog (played by Corey Feldman):
“I think I should warn you all, when a vampire bites it, it’s never a pretty sight. No two blood suckers go out the same way. Some yell and scream, some go quietly, some explode, some implode. But, all will try and take you with them.”
Just like the evil creatures in that classic flick, some vintage candy will implode and some will explode, but it will all try to take out as much as possible around it.
This presents a difficult issue with collecting the Bubble Yum/Bubblicious/Hubba Bubba brands I mentioned earlier, as soft chunk gum looks so darned good when it is unopened in its original block form. I really do have internal debates about opening the stuff, and I continue to, but the following images give me reason to go with opening them all. [Note: I still have a significant collection of as-yet-unopened soft-chunk gum packs.]
You can see the staining that has occurred from within the packs in that image. The liquid-ized gum from inside penetrates and ruins wrappers. Here’s a series of photos of my attempt at rescuing a wrapper which had contents that went syrupy.
With foil-backed packs like that, a recovery can be made of the wrapper itself but it isn’t easy and there is always some permanent damage and staining. Still, it’s better than losing a wrapper all together, especially if it’s the only one you’ve got.
Even when candy doesn’t go full-on juicy like that Bubblicious pack, damage and problems can still occur.
Next up is a series of three photos of a Sour Dots box from the 1960’s (sadly no shots of the outside of the package) and you can see how the degraded candy bonded with the inside of the box:
I was never able to get all of those bits removed from the cardboard.
It’s always sad when you find an unopened piece of vintage candy and the fact that it was saved unopened has ruined it. Such was the case with this Kit Kat bar from Southeast Asia. Not only did the bar degrade, but the oils in the chocolate permeated the wrapper and the ink ended up wiping right off while I was handling it and trying to clean it. In addition to that unpleasantness, years earlier some type of grubs had found their way into the sealed package and made their way through the Kit Kat itself:
That’s what the wrapper looked like when I received it, but my attempt to clean it turned it into an unrecognizable piece of wrapping, as the contents saturated the wrapper causing the warm water to flake and smudge away all of the graphics.
Beyond being an unfortunate circumstance, as the wrapper looks to have been very neat at one point, this was also the most difficult “old candy smell” experience I’ve ever endured. My 30-year-old Snickers experience was weird but the smell coming off of this old Kit Kat was monstrously pungent and very tough to handle. It was BAD.
Here’s what the bars looked like after they were dropped into the sink – you can see where the bugs had their way with it:
I once thought that items like Bubble Tape containers would be immune to degradation but it is simply not the case. Here’s a Bubble Tape I recently acquired that sadly might be unrecoverable and need to be thrown out. The syrupy contents have so saturated the label that I don’t know if it can be successfully cleaned:
Of course, even significant decomposition of the contents of a vintage candy package doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the wrapper. With effort, even a disgusting mess of syrup and gook can be cleaned and the wrapper restored.
I’m going to close today’s post with images of an unopened package of Blow Pop Gum Balls from the 1990’s that was pretty far gone when it came to me, but some work recovered the wrapper:
From the front, the pack looks alright, but turn it around and you can see what’s brewing inside.
Though this package was sealed, I didn’t want to take the risk that it might ever crack open or that the contents might eventually damage the graphics printed on the plastic package. So I began the process of squeezing the gum out.
I don’t know that intentionally gross novelty candy could possibly compete for how rough that squeezing out of the Blow Pop Gumballs looks.
The happy ending to that experience is that after a lot of work and a lot of hot water, I managed to get most of the contents of the Blow Pop Gum Balls off of the package without damaging it. There is still some sticky residue of the gum it once contained, but it’s now manageable and stable. Here’s the final wrapper:
So even a package that might seem like a lost cause doesn’t have to be. The lesson here; don’t throw out that old syrupy gum… because it might be a lost confectionery treasure – like this Blow Pops Gum Balls package!
And that’s everything for today’s post on why saving unopened candy can be a very bad idea. I hope it didn’t gross you out too much and if it didn’t, that you enjoyed seeing it. Because you surely didn’t want to touch or smell any of this stuff.
See you next time!