‘Necco: An Epic Candy Tale’ book is close to done. Do you have stories or photos that should be in it?
Have you ever thought back to a sunny day long ago, sharing candy with your best friend? Have you ever wished you could step back in time and live that day again? Bringing back those memories is my mission as curator of the Candy Wrapper Museum.
Imagine my thrill when a magical portal to a time long ago arrived on my doorstep thanks to Jeffrey S. Green, Necco’s one-time vice president of research and development. During the move from Necco’s Cambridge headquarters to Revere, he had the wisdom to save a precious piece of New England’s confectionery history from being lost forever in the trash. Nestled within the yellowed pages of a giant-sized scrapbook was a painstakingly annotated collection of Necco candy wrappers and ephemera that had not been seen since the days when customers bought them at their neighborhood store.
A careful preservation and restoration project began. My husband Joe started by photographing each page to create a reference before the contents were removed. He lined up any contents that had fallen out to match them with the notes. We then transcribed the notes to get everything in digital form before finally removing the contents.
As we worked to preserve this almost-lost piece of Necco history, we became convinced that we should share it with the world in a book. I began poring voraciously over old books, magazines, trade journals and newspapers for details large and small about Necco’s past. The more I learned, the more I realized that Necco’s history is tied inextricably to the history of dozens of Cambridge and Boston confectioners, all with their own rich histories.
This “family tree” also extends beyond New England to Wisconsin, Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Georgia, the United Kingdom and Canada. Some names are still well-known, while others have faded in fame. With my book, I am ensuring that the names live on. These include Chase & Co., Wright & Moody, Fobes Hayward & Co., Lovell & Covel, The Daggett Chocolate Co., Page & Shaw, F.H. Roberts, Sparrow, Gobelin, Squirrel Brand, the Deran Confectionery Co., the Norris Candy Co., John Mackintosh & Sons, Lowney’s, Cumberland Valley, Candy House, Charles N. Miller, D.L. Clark, the American Candy Co., the Ziegler Candy Co. and Howard B. Stark.
I have given the book the title “Necco: An Epic Candy Tale,” for it surely is. One of the most profound and recurring themes I have found is the dedication, ingenuity, imagination and love that the people working in candy factories gave to keep businesses going, only to have their hearts broken the day the doors closed – often suddenly. Generations of families often worked together, with so many longtime employees that Necco celebrated them in its Quarter Century Club.
With this project, I have worked hard to fact-check company histories and discover details and stories. I have interviewed former Necco workers and fellow candy historians. My extensive research has required more than 1,000 sources to verify stories, date the packaging, describe long-defunct candies, uncover people’s life stories and explore the larger context of the world while events were taking place at Necco. I am compiling a list of every Necco candy that I could track down. The list totals more than 700, and I am sure that I am missing many more.
Every day brings a discovery, making it hard to stop and say this project is “done,” but I am closing in. The book is due to be released in late spring. If anyone reading this has a story, photo or other ephemera to contribute to this history (especially old photos of the factory), I welcome you to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, you will find me hard at work and dreaming of sunny days long ago enjoying a sweet roll of Necco Wafers with a friend.
Note from History Cambridge: History is, by nature, complex and interwoven, and nothing exists in isolation. This article and book reflect a particular moment in time. We acknowledge the interconnectivity of the Triangle Trade in which arms, textiles and wine were shipped from Europe to Africa; enslaved people from Africa to the Americas; and sugar and coffee from the Americas to Europe. The candy industry in New England and elsewhere is a legacy of that trade, and we encourage you to explore more of the richly layered histories of Caribbean Cambridge by listening to our Oral Histories of Caribbean Heritage in Cambridge and taking our Self-Guided Tour of Caribbean Community in the Port.
About History Cambridge
History Cambridge started in 1905 as the Cambridge Historical Society. Today we have a new name, a new look and a whole new mission.
We engage with our city to explore how the past influences the present to shape a better future. We strive to be the most relevant and responsive historical voice in Cambridge. We do that by recognizing that every person in our city knows something about Cambridge’s history, and their knowledge matters. We support people in sharing history with each other – and weaving their knowledge together – by offering them the floor, the mic, the platform. We shed light where historical perspectives are needed. We listen to our community. We live by the ideal that history belongs to everyone.
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Darlene Lacey is a California candy historian and author of pop culture history books. She began collecting candy wrappers in the 1970s for her Candy Wrapper Museum. Her story and collection have been featured on major media outlets and programs including Time, Bon Appetit, Parade, Smithsonian Magazine, the Food Network’s “Unwrapped” and the podcast “Something You Should Know.” Follow her at candywrappermuseum on Instagram and @CandyWrapperMuseum on Facebook. You can visit the online museum at candywrappermuseum.com.