Good As Gold...

Premiums have had a long and colorful history since the 1920s. From PEP cereal pins to Cracker Jack toys, these sales incentives have touched all of our lives at some point or another – and that’s what makes the collectibles field so special. And since almost everyone can remember eating an entire box of cereal to reach the valuable prize at the bottom, it’s no small surprise that cereal companies sold millions of dollars’ worth of product. But who was responsible for this premium craze and its aftereffects?

It all began with a man named Sam Gold.

Born in 1900, Sam Gold went to work for Whitman Publishing Company, one of the largest publishers in the country, in 1920. There, he created and developed children’s books. By 1922, Sam had moved to Chicago and started his own company, known as American Advertising & Research Corporation, which produced not only children’s books, but also premiums, direct mail and displays. Sam believed that the “world’s greatest super salesman” was a child, able to sell to mom and dad when no one else could. This concept was the principle that Sam used as the foundation of his business. He would go to large national food companies (mostly cereal companies) with the pitch that children could help their products sell.

This was a revolutionary idea, because in those days, families didn’t listen to children as they do today. Many customers felt a child wouldn’t be able to influence an adult to buy a product, but Sam was convinced that if you sold the child, you could get the child to help sell the parents. To implement this idea, Sam created a total marketing plan that included point of purchase displays, posters, direct mail and radio scripts aimed at selling products to kids.

By 1934, American Advertising & Research Corporation had a ten-man art department that worked on premiums for kids and related displays, with Sam Gold as Art Director at the head. He also had a full-time copywriter by the name of Hugh Stevenson, whose background included working for the General Mills ad agency in Minneapolis. So while the development of these premiums was really a team effort, it was the Art Director and the Copywriter who had the responsibility of creating the original idea and deciding how to develop and produce it.

And the actual production of a premium was a difficult job. It had to be planned and coordinated so that it worked when all the parts were finally manufactured. If the premium didn’t assemble correctly and wasn’t delivered on time, companies had a huge problem on their hands. If companies took an order from a cereal company for $25,000 to $100,000 (which in those days was big money) that they couldn’t produce, they would be sued. Even the premium buyers for the food companies could get fired if the premiums were late.

But because of Sam Gold’s dedication and ingenuity, he – and eventually his son Gordon – always came through on delivery.

In 1934, Sam created and produced the Mickey Mouse Waddle Book for Blue Ribbon books. He arranged the licensing of Mickey Mouse with the Disney studio and also signed Disney to do the artwork on this book. The creation and development of this book also gave him the chance to work with Disney’s top marketing man, Kay Kamen, who became one of his dearest friends.

It was also in 1934 that Sam created and produced a pop-up book containing comic characters for, once again, Blue Ribbon books. He handled the creation and marketing and negotiated the licensing of the comic characters with his friend Al Leowenthal, head of the Famous Artists Syndicate (and his friend John Dille on the Buck Rogers popup book). Tarzan, Orphan Annie, Mother Goose and Little Red Riding Hood titles were also produced, and Sam did the marketing plan, as well as designed and produced the display counter stand.

In 1942, Sam’s son Gordon started working for his father on Sundays – helping with the filing of dummies, samples and so forth. Born in 1926, Gordon had premium creation in his blood, and would eventually learn the market while Sam, who was soon known as the Premium King, was busy selling premiums to General Foods, Kellogg’s, Quaker Oats, and others.

In 1944, Sam set up a new company with Einson-Freeman, who, considered the top display company, manufactured paper and cardboard displays, and were also known as very fine printers. The new company was named the Gold-Einson Freeman Company, with Sam owning two thirds and Einson owning the rest. Since Sam was the top premium man in the United States and Einson the top printer, this was a marriage made in heaven. And because Einson had a large sales force and Sam was the only salesman in his company, they really needed each other at that time.

Sam then renovated an old four-story brownstone in Chicago and made it his headquarters. He had his ten-man art department, sales production staff, and accounting department all in this building. And it was during this time that Sam decided to move into other fields besides the cereal premium business, which led him to develop the Traffic Builder Program.

Under this plan, when an adult brought a child into a showroom, the dealer would give the child a terrific premium. Thus, the child could be used to sell all manner of household appliances. Sam went to General Electric, one of the biggest companies in America, to explain this. Of course, General Electric thought the idea was ridiculous, but they gave Sam a chance to prove himself anyway. And Sam’s Traffic Builder Promotion would soon be put into action.

If the adult would bring their child into a General Electric store to view the new line of General Electric refrigerators, for example, GE would give the child a General Electric Circus – a full color, cardboard and die-cut playset. This gave salesmen a chance to show off their newest refrigerators. The promotion was so successful that Sam also sold the idea to General Motors and many other large companies. Because the traffic builder concept worked so well, he went from a company that sold mostly to cereal companies to selling hard products for some of the largest companies in America. He created the General Electric Western Rodeo, the General Electric Circus, the Admiral TV Walt Disney Peter Pan Theater and many others. It was a concept changed the entire premium business. Companies would pay anywhere from 33 to 50 cents each for a traffic building premium and would buy anywhere from 500,000 to a million on the first order!

In 1946, Sam created the idea of full-color comic character pinback buttons. This was one year after the War ended and his son Gordon returned from the service to join the Gold-Einson-Freeman Company as a salesman selling premiums and displays. Working with the Tribune Comic Syndicate, Sam sold his button idea to the Kellogg’s cereal company. The original orders were for 100 million buttons. And the Kellogg’s PEP-set of 86 buttons are still considered to be one of the most successful premiums ever produced.

Sam believed very much in comic characters and he promoted them when other companies thought that they weren’t that important. Though this was before comics had taken off, Sam already realized the link between these characters and the kids.

Around 1947, Gordon Gold, after creating and selling the Baby Snooks premium for Turns, resigned from Gold-Einson-Freeman and started his own company called Premium Specialties. There he made up a line of children’s stock premiums that any company could use. Companies could buy 10,000, 20,000, or 25,000 and imprint their name on the premium. Gordon would sell to the smaller or medium-sized companies, while his father would only handle the larger companies. Gordon’s company also produced character premiums such as a Gene Autry button, the Gene Autry rubber band gun and Hopalong Cassidy badges.

In 1948, Sam Gold started licensing companies in other countries to sell premiums on a 50/50 partnership basis. He had licensing deals in England, Italy, France, Germany, South America, Holland, and Mexico, in which he would send these associates premium items. They would then approach the counterparts of cereal companies, General Electric and other companies to see if the overseas branch would use the same item that had been so successful in the United States. The orders weren’t as large as in the United States, but it was a successful international business. Because of his success in premiums, Life magazine (April 19,1949) had a write-up on the cereal premium phenomenon and called Sam Gold the top idea man of the premium business. It was also during this time that Sam came up with the Post Cereals comic character tin rings.

Sam enjoyed cheap cigars, and he would often take the band that goes around cigars and put it on his finger. These cigar bands were very colorful. One day Sam looked down and decided that this concept would make a great kid’s ring premium. He talked with Post and the rest was history. Sam once admitted that his success and his ideas were due to the fact that he was “mentally a kid.”

This attitude led to Sam Gold selling the Cracker Jack company premiums in 1950. Later on, however, in 1954, Sam Gold and Einson-Freeman broke up their joint company and Sam Gold moved into the Gordon Gold Premium Specialty Company offices in Chicago. Now, Gordon had an office building on Illinois St. at this time, and he had begun to create plastic premiums. Because most other companies were still working in paper and cardboard, Sam was truly seeing the future of premiums by being open to a transition into plastics.

So in 1956, Gordon Gold’s company, Premium Specialties, merged with Sam Gold Associates (created after Sam left the Gold-Einson Freeman company). Gordon became Vice President and moved to New York City to open up the New York office. His plan was to set up separate offices in Chicago and New York to give the customers faster service in creating and selling ideas. The food companies wanted ideas and dummies fast, and they wouldn't wait. This also offered Gordon and Sam an opportunity to get into manufacturing certain key parts to the premium that would allow them better control of production and final product quality. At this point they were working with many different types of material, and because of this, there was no way to manufacture the entire premium. For example, they had balsa gliders one week, metal buttons the next week, rubber bands the next, and so on. If they became locked into one type of manufacturing, they would be stuck. Their flexibility in manufacturing was one of the many things that made their company successful. In 1957, Gordon Gold sold his first order to Nabisco cereal, a large (6,000,000) order of the Rin-Tin-Tin telegraph key premiums. Gordon had just received the Rin-Tin-Tin license from Ed Justin of Screen Gems in New York. Gordon and Sam began making Nabisco’s premiums and soon became Nabisco’s largest supplier of premiums. At this time, they also created the Best Foods Easter Kit. Gordon then set up Shields Plastic, in 1957, in Chicago. This company only did the packaging of the premiums because all of the premiums had to be put in a paper or cellophane bag ready for insertion in cereal boxes. They also set up a large plastic die-cutting and packaging plant at 40 West 20th Street in New York City that specialized in vacuum forming. One of the first to do vacuum forming in the display and premium business, examples of their early products include the Nabisco Rin-Tin-Tin totem poles and insignia patches. Anywhere from 100 to 300 people were employed in the plant depending on the time of the year.

Later that year, they started a New York corporation called Gold Premium of New York and Gold Manufacturing Corp. Gordon became President of both companies while Sam acted Vice President. As a result, the New York office rented two large floors at 40 West 20th Street and set up a plant specializing in premiums, displays and toys. Now it was a two-fold business plant. The plan was that Sam would design, sell and manufacture in Chicago with customers such as General Foods, Kellogg’s, and Quaker, while Gordon would do the same thing – create, sell and manufacture to customers in New York.

It was in 1957 that Gordon Gold created and developed a product called Sculpture Contact, a vac-u-form. It was a three dimensional wall covering that could be put on a surface to make a beautiful brick or fieldstone wall. It was plastic, about a half inch deep, and was produced in the New York plant. And sure enough, this wall product ended up doing ten million dollars a year in retail sales.

In 1962, however, things started getting very slow in the premium business. To be more effective, Gordon asked Sam to move to New York – where there was a larger market. Unfortunately, in 1963, Gordon's apartment in New York burned down. So, taking his wife and three children, he decided to move to Miami Beach, Florida. Sam and Gordon liquidated their companies and each started a new company. Sam's company was Gold Premium of Illinois and Gordon’s company was the Gordon Premium Corporation. They split their customers, with Gordon taking Nabisco, General Mills, and Best Foods and Sam taking General Foods.

Late in 1965, Sam Gold died at the age of 64 in Chicago, during a premium presentation to the Cracker Jack Company. He always told Gordon that he wanted to die with his boots on. At the time of his death, he’d already established 15 factories in Hong Kong making premiums for Cracker Jack. After he died, Gordon purchased the company from his mother, who wanted no role in the premium business. He later merged Sam’s company with his own at the end of 1965. At this time, Gordon Gold’s company was the largest premium company in the United States, and was shipping nine to twelve million premiums a week to Cracker Jack alone. Gordon’s excitement about premiums and the perceptions of others can be best described in a story that Gordon was fond of telling, “In 1967, I sold Post Cereal a jet action balloon boat for use in their Alpha Bits cereal. I brought the production plastic shots for approval to Post Cereal at White Plains, NY. I met with Tom Irwin, the Product Manager, and Stu Melville, the Purchasing Manager, and we took these plastic boats and balloons into the bathroom at Post's main building and preceded to blow up the balloon and try them out in the wash bowl filled with water. A group of men came in the room and used the facility and looked at us like we were nuts. When the men left the bathroom they looked at each other and shook their heads, they thought that we were playing with toys in the Post's Cereal Co. bathroom.”

Gordon would continue to run the business successfully until 1974, when he decided to liquidate his assets and move to North Carolina to retire. In 1975, Gordon Gold presented his father’s vast antique toy collection, called the Gold Toy Collection, to the Museum of the City of New York. The museum had a huge cocktail party for the occasion and invited 3,000 of their museum members for the opening day. After this official opening, over 500,000 patrons paid to see the exhibit. The museum still has the collection, and, with a total of 2,500 items, it is one of the finest antique toy collections in the country.

And a year later, Gordon came out of retirement. Not only did he do this in 1976, but also in 1980 and 1981 – to sell huge premium promotions to Post Cereal and Burger King (Burger King called him “the legendary Gordon Gold”).

Because of his success in the children’s premium business, Gordon Gold’s premium empire was displayed at Duke University in 1989. Creating the display to honor his father, Gordon would put together an exhibit of premiums that three generations could see and enjoy.

Sam and Gordon Gold have left their mark on the hearts of children and adults everywhere, creating memorable premiums for over 60 years. They successfully changed the face of promotions and showed companies better ways to promote their product. Always on the cutting edge, Sam and Gordon Gold welcomed new technology but still retained the quality that built their reputation. Sam and Gordon Gold and the premiums they created have taken their place in history, making the Golds the Kings of Premiums.