Back in the late 1960’s, the Donruss company of Memphis, Tennessee offered up a “slab bubble gum” product to consumers. Although competitors like Fleer and Topps had similar products on the market, I consider Donruss’ offering notable for its use of the iconic “smiley face” graphic on its packaging. So make the jump to check out Donruss’ Mouth Full bubble gum!
Today, seeing a yellow smiley face might have one thinking of emoticons (or emoji) — those cute little graphics that seem to fill our text messages and e-mails, providing context and humor in ways we couldn’t have ever predicted. But decades before there was e-mail or smart phones, there was that iconic yellow smiley face.
The origins of the classic Smiley Face are expertly uncovered and discussed by writer Jimmy Stamp over at Smithsonian.com – it’s an illuminating bit of history and I highly recommend checking it out.
Having grown up in the 1970’s, I saw that smiley face graphic everywhere. But one of my most visceral early memories of it came out of the pages of the DC Comics title PREZ, and the visually-arresting character of Boss Smiley:
Smiley face iconography was in heavy use within the comic but the odd character of Boss Smiley would take that and turn it on its particularly bizarre head.
Pretty creepy stuff.
Beyond that, my experience was that you could find the smiley face (and converse frowny face) as well as the “Have a Nice Day” tagline co-opted and used by just about everyone back then, even the U.S. Army.
So it should come as little surprise that confectionery companies decided to put that happy little face to work as well. Donruss, best known for their classic Super Bubble and Bub’s Daddy bubble gum products, was one of the first to give it a go.
Launched in the late 1960’s (trademark records show a 1968 filing), I can’t say for sure if Mouth Full bubble gum packaging initially sported the smiley face graphic, but it seems likely.
Here’s a look at a section of an early 1970’s Donruss promotional sales flyer featuring Mouth Full bubble gum:
Mouth Full bubblegum was sold in packages that were the dimensions of a pack of trading cards (albeit slightly thicker), and in some cases trading cards were included as a bonus. I have wax wrapper examples of the flavors of Mouth Full seen in that flyer:
Unfortunately, I can’t date those wrappers with complete certainty other than to say that they come from the early 1970’s. However I do have a couple other versions of Mouth Full wrappers that I’d like to show and that may help shape a timeline for the brand.
The first is, I’m guessing, a later run pack that utilized a plastic, heat-sealed package, rather than a wax wrapper [Note: This pack does not indicate the inclusion of a trading card]:
Next up is another Mouth Full wax wrapper, but it is unusual in that it does not sport the iconic smiley face graphic that the brand is known for. Not only that, but it includes a 10-cent printed-on price tag and a larger 2oz size. The Donruss brochure shown earlier features smiley face packs with a 15-cent price point. Those facts lead me to suspect that perhaps this wrapper style pre-dates the smiley face versions. This could even be the style of wrapper that was on Mouth Full packs when they debuted in the late 1960’s. But without any other hard data to corroborate that, it’s only a guess:
I have never encountered a Mouth Full wrapper that included a UPC code on it, so that hints that the brand probably didn’t last into the later 1970’s when UPC’s were widely adopted.
Donruss used the iconic smiley face on at least one other product – a knock-off of Topps’ Gold Rush bubble gum called Nuggets ‘O’ Gold:
It would appear that the sticker on that Nuggets ‘O’ Gold pouch was die-cut and removable/reusable, adding some value to the product.
While I suspect that Donruss was the first confectionery company to put the smiley face imagery to use, they certainly weren’t the last.
The Leaf company had a vending gumball product simply called Smiles, where each bubble gum ball had a small smiley face printed on it:
Even the classic Harmon’s Cinnamon Toothpicks got in on the fun:
By the 1980’s, widespread use of the smiley face graphic had fallen off, but it’s never disappeared and in the ensuing decades has even seen significant periods of resurgence.
The early 80’s introduction of Topps’ carton bubble gum packages showed that the simple design of that smiley face was still one worth invoking, even if this particular example is a departure from the iconic version:
There’s certainly more to uncover about Donruss’ Mouth Full bubble gum and there are likely other instances of the smiley face graphic being utilized in confectionery packaging, but for now that’s everything I’ve got on the subject. I will be keeping my eyes peeled for other Donruss Mouth Full examples (and smiley face candy packages) so I can one day revisit and add to the story. It was a fun one to bring together.
See you next time!