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COLLECTING RADIO AND TV PREMIUMS
Article by Tom Mason
 
  The thirties, forties and fifties were the golden age of the mail-in premiums for all the serialized kiddies’ radio and television shows. The sponsors periodically would offer us “special premiums” to be had for just a box-top and a small charge to cover "
Postage and handling.” Sometimes, we just needed the box-top, other times we had to add a fee of from ten cents to a quarter. All of these items were usually tied into the show we were listening to at the time. Due to the plethora of these offers by so many sponsors this will be an ongoing series featuring specific areas of the premiums.
Part One: OVALTINE
Ovaltine was one of the biggest purveyors of the mail-in premium. At various times, they offered badges, pins, decoders, rings, mugs, secret maps, masks, bracelets, manuals, comics, memberships, pictures of the stars of the shows, sheet music, games, magic transfer pictures, puzzles, and many more. The list is almost endless.

AnnieShakeup.jpg (54729 bytes)Ovaltine used Radio as it's prime source to reach children and started with a variety of mugs, and glasses with their name and logo on them.. Then they discovered that characters embossed on their premiums sold even more of their product. First came Uncle Wiggily the Rabbit a famed fictional character from children’s books.. They struck premium gold when they took over sponsorship of the radio show LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE.. Annie came from a famous newspaper strip by Harold Gray and was a perfect vehicle for them to bring to radio. Soon Annie was offering all sorts of wondrous things, but the most popular had to do with Annie’s Secret Society. The decoder badge came into its own there. In 1934 the first bronze Secret Society pin was offered. In 1935 the first round decoder pin and in 1936 the first secret compartment decoder badge. CM Patch89.jpg (31141 bytes) During her rein on radio from 1930 to 1940, she offered approximately seven decoders of various types. As World War II loomed before us, Ovaltine abandoned Annie around 1941 in favor of a more aviation minded action series revolving around CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT and his Secret Squadron’s fight against the arch villain Ivan Shark and enemies of America’s freedom. Annie tried to carry on for awhile with another sponsor, “Quaker Sparkies Puffed Wheat and Rice," with her version of the Squadron called THE SECRET GUARD. In 1942 the name was changed to the SAFETY GUARD. She gained a new partner named Commander Sparks and Annie became a Lt. Commander. Commander Sparks began to dominate the show while her Annie's part got smaller. Within two years Annie had lost her audience and the era of the Orphan Annie Radio Show was over.

Captain Midnight; on the other hand, took off, (no pun intended.) He had started as a local show in Kansas City and was originally sponsored by Skelley Oil. He embodied the more mature pilot as opposed to the boy aviators like Jimmie Allen. Allen’s writing team penned the Captain Midnight episodes and later did both Hop Harrigan and Sky King. Skelley offered premiums, but they were not of the quality that was to follow under Ovaltine’s stewardship. Skelley mainly offered paper items like photos, maps, newspapers and games. The most famous of their premiums was a spinning bronze medallion that has been reproduced often and is readily available from places like EBay. All in all, Skelley offered 23 premiums during their sponsorship.

Ovaltine knew that the times were changing and they quickly bought the rights to Captain Midnight and put him on the air in September of 1940 and moved his broadcast location to Chicago. The Captain’s origin was retold and the show went through an evolution to reach the Captain Midnight that was to be the most famous of radio aviators.

From 1940 until 1949 there were approximately 43 premiums offered to the radio audience. They were must-have items and we all drank our Ovaltine which had now come out with a different flavor: sweet chocolate flavored. Now we no longer had to drink that nasty malt tasting original Ovaltine, we had a choice.

CaptMug.jpg (46133 bytes)What better to market your product but something to drink it out of? A series of mugs and shakers began to be offered. You spooned in the Ovaltine crystals, added milk and ice…popped on the lid, and shook it until it emulsified into a chilled shake.

There were a total of three or more mugs offered: a mug/cup to drink your hot Ovaltine from and at least two or three different shake-up mugs. One had Captain Midnights likeness embossed into the plastic and the others had decals. Color schemes were changed, but the mugs remained basically the same design.

Of all the premiums that were offered, I liked the decoder badges most of all. The various rings were my next favorite. In my memory, I seemingly recall more of these precious items being offered, but research proves me wrong. There were many offers made, but lots of them were paper items such as maps and manuals that never appealed to me.
 

Part Two: The CODE-O-GRAPHS
Annie38.jpg (51101 bytes)Decoder badges were begun in 1938 and were a holdover from those offered by Orphan Annie in her Secret Society.

The first was the Mystery Dial Code-O-Graph and had an eagle at the top and a spinning wheel with letters and numbers. The look of it was a bit plain, but it was a good start.

Decoderphotoca22.jpg (25831 bytes)1942 Brought the much sought-after Photo-matic Code-O-Graph. It had a small photo of the Captain on it. In the enclosed manual, we were urged to remove that photo and replace it with one of our own. Many did this and so today a badge with the original Capt. Midnight picture in it is rare and commands a higher price.




1943-1944:
Due to the shortage of metal because of the war effort, caused no decoders to be issued and only an insignia shoulder patch, a service ribbon pin and an insignia folder were offered at various times during this two year period.

1945: The Code-O-Graph returned with the Magni-Matic badge….the standard decoder wheel with a small magnifying glass in its center.

1946: The Mirro-Flash Code-O-Graph came out with a small mirror inset into the decoder wheel. Now we could flash signals using the sun’s reflection.

1947: Plastic came to the Code-O-Graph with a blue whistle and a red decoder dial set in its side. I did not like this one, it seemed cheap and uninspired.

CM48decoder.jpg (32912 bytes)1948: Brought us a hybrid of metal and plastic: the Mirro-Flash Code-O-Graph. It had a red plastic back that tended to come loose from the metal front.

1949: The final radio Code-O-Graph… the Key-O-Matic with its tiny brass key that we all lost in quick order.

 

THE RINGS
First of all, we should clear up the myth of a Captain Midnight decoder ring. Exhaustive research has proved that such an item was never offered by Ovaltine. They did come out with an Ovaltine Decoder Ring in the year 2000, but it had nothing to do with Captain Midnight.

With that out of the way, I believe five rings were offered in all.

midnitering.jpg (60113 bytes)1939/1940 Skelley Oil may have brought out a Captain Midnight ring with what appears to be a red “V” or check mark on its crown. This ring is very rare and seldom seen. There are some premium photos showing the Captain brandishing a “secret ring.” Pictures of the ring are shown in various collector bibles, some do not identify it as being from Captain Midnight, others do.

1940-1941
Brought us the Flight Commander Ring, and the Whirlwind Whistling Ring.

1942 Brought the Sliding Secret Compartment Ring and the Mystic Eye Detector Ring (the same ring as the Lone Ranger Defender and ROA Look-Around Ring.) This ring is sometimes called the Look-Around Ring as well.

1943-1944: No rings issued due to war effort.

1945: No rings issued.

mysticsungod.jpg (32800 bytes)1946 Was the year of the Mystic Sun God ring: the most prized of the Captain Midnight rings. It was a shiny gold with a bright red plastic stone that held its secret. The stone was hollow and you could slip it off a metal track and insert your secret message into it and then replace the stone. Whatever you had to hide had to be extremely small as that stone would not hold very much, but it was the idea that fascinated me. This ring is a sad memory for me. After waiting weeks for its arrival, it came and I immediately put it on. My mother took me shopping with her and I happened to glance at my new treasure and the bright red stone that was the secret compartment had slid off its track and disappeared. Back-tracking my steps brought no sign of that little piece of red plastic. I was heartbroken. Talking to quite a few collectors revealed that they had similar experiences with the ring. Today, that ring, complete with its stone, is one of the higher prized pieces of Captain Midnight memorabilia.

1947: No rings issued.

1948 Gave us the final ring: the Initial Printing Ring w/top. Here was another ring with parts to lose. You removed the top to reveal an inked stamp pad with your initial on it.

Besides the rings and decoders, a variety of items were offered over the years: manuals, medals, pins, autographed photos, books, plane detectors, games, patches, insignias, and transfers.

Any of these along with their original shipping boxes command high prices today on the collector’s market.

When Captain Midnight moved to Television in the fifties, 15 additional premiums were offered by Ovaltine. The Captain had moved into the world of jet planes and rockets and was brought up to date with a new virile actor (Richard Webb) and a secret mountain-top laboratory to operate from. It was not the same.

In the late sixties or early seventies the Longines Symphonette Society issued a set of thin vinyl sound sheet records. These used the image of Captain Midnight that Fawcett Comics had featured in their comic book series and had nothing to do with the radio image of Captain Midnight.

In the late 70’s, Ovaltine offered a LP record of old Captain Midnight Radio Broadcasts. It was also released in stores.

In 1987 Ovaltine attempted to revive interest in Captain Midnight through a series of new premiums offered directly from the Ovaltine jar and newspaper ads. A special watch and t-shirt were issued with promises of more to come, but it never happened. Finally the company that owned Ovaltine voluntarily allowed the copyright and trademark on the old Captain to expire.

ovaltinering2.JPG (117134 bytes) In the year 2000, Ovaltine offered the FIRST EVER decoder ring through their product. There was no reference to Captain Midnight. It was to be a limited offer, but its success has caused Ovaltine to indefinitely extend the time limit. Let us hope that this may open the way for the Captain to return to us in some form in the future, but I fear he is just a memory...
 

Tom Mason
The Crimson Collector
 

A small sampling of the kinds of decoder badges that were produced.

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