Friday Ephemera: How Campbell’s Soup Got Its Gold Medal


In some ways I’m very much an true American at heart. I have always been interesting in product brands and logos: the fonts they choose to use, the emotions they evoke, the way they evolve over time, and how they reflect the time period that they come from. In fact, I’ve often thought that if I had it to do over again, I may have chosen to study graphic design, but then I realize that such a career veers way too close to the Jobs-And-Hobbies-That-Require-Me-To-Draw zone, which I have successfully avoided ever since trying to do a charcoal sketch of Bette Davis in 11th grade and realizing she looked more like the witch from Disney’s Snow White.

My point being, when I stumbled upon this little piece of history about the Campbell’s soup can label, I was fascinated. But I’m getting ahead of myself. In order for you to be equally fascinated, I suppose I need to set the stage a bit first:

If you were forced to name an era to associate with Campbell’s soup, chances are you’d name the 1950’s (or, if you’re an Andy Warhol fan, 1968.) Campbell’s conjures up images of mid-century suburban Cold War America, when those darling little Cabbage Patch Kid precursors had just enough time to dip their grilled cheese in a bowl of tomato soup before diving under their desks for a bomb drill.

Someone should call McCarthy. There's an awful lot of red going on here.

In actuality, though, the Campbell’s company is quite a good bit older than that. It was started in 1869 by fruit merchant Joseph Campbell and icebox manufacturer Abraham Anderson (a match made in heaven!) in New Jersey. At first, the company mostly canned tomatoes, vegetables, soups, and jellies, but everything changed with the persistence of one stubborn whippersnapper intern, 24-year-old John T. Dorrance. Dorrance was the general manager’s nephew and a chemist who was so determined to make a legacy for himself in soup that he agreed to work for a piddling $7.50 a week and purchase all his laboratory equipment out of pocket. With the soundtrack to Fame playing mysteriously in the background (or at least that’s how it goes in my head), Dorrance struck paydirt in 1897 when he invented condensed soup on the principle that by reducing the amount of water used in the recipe, he could lower production and shipping costs and therefore make a more affordable product.

what a show-off

Dorrance’s ideas did more than just make the company (and himself) filthy rich. Occurring right on the cusp of the turn of the century, this major innovation in mass-produced vegetable soup must have been fresh in minds of the coordinators of the 1900 World Fair in Paris, because the humble little tin can received a gold medal, alongside such exhibits as the diesel engine and refracting telescope.

Cambell’s executive Herberton Williams debuted the can’s new color scheme at the Fair–the cherry red and white that soon became its trademark. The image of the medal was added after, and those elements combined to form a product design that became larger than life, so much so that Mr. Warhol used it in one of his most famous series to make a statement at once both humorous and ominous, comforting and unnerving.

And what, may you ask, ever became of our enterprising Mr. Dorrance? He went on to become president of the company from 1914-1930 and buying out the Campbell family. So there you have it, kids. The moral of this story is: Interns, never give up! One day you could own that place.




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Woman vs. Beast

In rearranging our living room, I have decided that our blue woven rug looks best placed here:

Lucy, on the other hand, seems to like it better here:

This, my friends, is a battle of wills.

And I will not allow myself defeat.

Especially against something that licks its own butt.

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DIY Decor: Upcycling My Bathroom Wall Art

I guess this project doesn’t necessarily fit the true definition of “upcycling“, since the wall plaques that I started with weren’t waste materials and functioned perfectly fine. I was just reeeeeeally tired of them. No offense to the lovely Sara who left them with me after she moved, but I’ve done the beach bum theme in that bathroom long enough. It was time for a change.

This was one of the two wooden wall plaques that I started with.

I also had a bunch of these awesome ephemera images that came from my housemate Tracey. They are some of the most interesting and bizarre drawings I’ve ever seen, and they’ve made their way into almost every craft project I’ve done since I discovered them in her living room. If you’re interested, they came out of a book very similar to this one: Victorian Goods and Merchandise. This book series compiles thousands of copyright-free images, categorizes them, and publishes them in books that are easy to scan. It’s a crafter’s (and tattoo artist’s) dream come true.

Anyway, so back to the project. I wanted to start with a blank surface, so I decided to spray paint both the plaques a bright yellow.

By the way, I am the world’s worst spray-painter. Marc will attest to this. I always end up doing the painter’s equivalent to over-correcting when a car almost hits you on the highway. I start spraying, almost immediately lay it on uneven, and in my panic over the unevenness keep going back over that spot hoping to fix it, but of course just end up making it worse. You can’t tell in this picture, but there’s some definite Nikki handiwork on those things.

Voila! To finish, I just cut out the images I wanted and mod-podged them onto the dry painted wood. Ridiculously easy, and the whole thing only took me about a half an hour, not including drying time on the spray paint. Here’s how they look hung back up in their spots in the bathroom:

Marc said I should have ink stamped some kind of border on the one with the single picture, but I kind of liked keeping it simple. One small, satisfying step towards my dream Victorian bathroom. Next stop, one of those fancy freestanding toilet paper roll holders…in brass!!



Filed under art of hospitality, DIY

In Which Nikki Writes a Guest Blog

Hey folks! I thought I’d share with you the link to my friend Kate’s blog, called The Debt Free Family. I forget how I initially stumbled upon this blog, but I certainly know why I keep visiting it–Kate and her husband are chronicling their mission to wipe out their debt ($15,000) in 14 months on a $20,000 a year salary. I find this hugely valuable and inspiring, since Marc and I are trying to do the same thing (with admittedly less fabulous results so far). From Kate, I glean tons of helpful ideas about budgeting, cheap and natural alternatives to household products, great Mexican recipes, and thoughts about money and the Christian faith.

Kate asked me to write a guest post this past Saturday, and since she’s been very interested in hearing about my experiences with communal living, I decided to go at it from this angle:

Needs and Wants, or What Living in a Commune Taught Me About Contentedness 

Give it a read and show Kate’s blog some comment love if you’re so inclined.

Happy Monday, ya’ll!


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We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming…

So, I regret to say I won’t be posting my usual Friday Ephemera today, but I do not at all regret that it’s because I’m throwing the house into a tizzy trying to get ready to leave for Birmingham this afternoon, where I will help my middle school BFF Chelsea shoot her little sister’s wedding tomorrow. Macey has come a long way from tagging along on Chelsea and I’s mall adventures to find the perfect “costumes” from Rainbow to perform our homemade music videos (yes, evidence still exists…no you may NOT see it), and come to think of it, so have we.

Well, sort of. I don’t shop at Rainbow anymore, but I’ve developed a recent guilty obsession with Glee, which is kind of like living vicariously through fictional people’s homemade music videos. I try not to overanalyze it.

I’m going to go vacuum ALL THE THINGS now so there’s a fleeting chance that the house will not be a train wreck when I get back home on Sunday. There will be lots of pictures to share, I’m sure, and I’ll try to snag some internet at a coffee shop while I’m there to post a few.

Until then, I’ll leave you with a mini Friday Ephemera with no explanation.

When you’ve got that one figured out, let me know.



Filed under friday ephemera, general nonsense

In Which Nikki Will Get the 75th Percentile or Die Trying

If you went to grade school in the 90’s, you may remember encountering a little round blue patch with an eagle on it that looked something like this:

Depending on your interests, how many sports you played, and how many Kraft Handi-Snacks you may or may not have devoured over the course of a weekend Rocko’s Modern Life marathon, that patch would either be placed delicately in your quivering hands like some holy grail of adolescent achievement…or it would be pinned to the Girl Scout sash of your arch nemesis, who God cruelly designed to stand next to you during every significant school event because your last names were one letter off from each other.

Of course, if the latter was the case, you still got some kind of patch–a different color, slightly less epic-looking eagle, cheaper stitching–but we all knew that was the loser patch. The I-could-only-shuttle-that-stupid-eraser-twelve-times-across-the-parking-lot patch. Nobody wanted that one, and if you got it, you solemnly swore to spend every waking moment of your summer break pumping iron and running laps around the block (or, if you had parents like mine, up and down the driveway only) until you were poised to shatter those “presidential” records the following year.

Obviously this experience has left a, shall we say, deep impression on me. There were a couple of years that I got that coveted blue patch, but they were few and far between. I usually found myself mounted squarely in the slightly-below-average range of my peers in the area of physical fitness, a trend that has carried into adulthood. Always ever so slightly overweight for my frame, always tiring out a measly few minutes behind everyone else on the volleyball team. Just far enough behind to see the promised land of athleticism and drool.

Why am I dredging up these childhood memories of V-stretches and pull-up bars? My past month of cleansing and regular exercise got me thinking about the Physical Fitness Test and how I would stack up nowadays. Initially, I was rummaging around Google trying to see if there was a database where I could find my old grade school scores, but I ended up finding something even better:

The Presidential Adult Fitness Test

Oh yeah. That’s right. There’s an adult version! Not only that, but there are guidelines to test yourself at home and an online system to enter in your data so you can see what percentile of the population you rank in for each given category: aerobic fitness, muscular strength, flexibility, and body composition. I took one look at it and knew I had to use this thing to challenge myself. Like I said, I’m about a month into exercising regularly, and although I do love how I feel afterwards, I’m starting to reach that bored phase on some days. I needed a way to spice things up and set measurable goals for myself to keep it interesting, and this seems like just the ticket. I decided before I looked at my score that my goal would be to reach the 75th percentile in all categories. After testing myself yesterday, this is what my chart currently looks like:
The body composition annoys me more than anything, because I’m literally .2 BMI away from the acceptable range, but I still get the “overweight” label and a vague, ominous threat about diseases. I’m going to try my hardest to eradicate that one first. I’m already past the 75th percentile in flexibility (I always owned at that V-stretch thing), but it’s going to be a long way to go in muscular strength and aerobic fitness. Especially push-ups. My guns are more like water pistols.

As for a time constraint, I’d like to reach this goal by my birthday, which is July 18th. The plan is to keep up my aerobic exercise, start incorporating strength training a couple times a week, and re-test myself every three weeks or so to see the progress. And of course, blog about it.

I’m a little sad that there isn’t a patch if you score well on the adult test, though. If they were to design one, I would suggest replacing the eagle with something more like the picture below, because that’s certainly what I’m going to feel like if I’m able to beat this thing.

Aerobically yours,



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Elephant fact #7

An elephant’s ears help control its body temperature. When elephants flap their ears on hot days, blood circulates in the ear’s numerous veins. The blood returns to the head and body about 9 degrees cooler.

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