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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Peanuts (talking) Bus

The Peanuts Bus Story

The J. Chein years

To give you a little history, between the years 1964 through 1968, I was employed as the lead designer by a rather small toy company named, “J. Chein & Company”.  The company was located in Burlington City, NJ.  I was told they were one of the two remaining pre-printed sheet metal toy manufacturers in the USA.  Their sales were lagging and they believed the cause of this lag was due to not having enough affordable plastic toys in the product line.  One of my key roles was to merge utilization of plastics more frequently in their product line.

At the time, sheet metal toys had a bad reputation of accidentally cutting children.  As a result, sales were down.  We spent a considerable amount of time reviewing 104 old and new products for faulty crimps or bent ears needed to hold the product together.  Whenever a faulty closure was discovered, the tool was pulled and immediately repaired.  During the course of this ongoing investigation, I happened across an old set of tools used to make a toy bus.

As I recall, it was 1965-66 and at that time, the Volkswagen micro bus was enjoying extensive popularity.  I owed a VW bus and was totally enchanted by it, especially on family outings traveling with wife and four children.  The thought came to mind that it might be a great idea to revitalize the old toy bus into a Volkswagen bus.  We were accustomed in using character merchandise such as Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse to aid in selling the products.  The Peanuts characters were considered timely because of the family orientation and were the most popular cartoon of the day.  I told the director of our small design department, Mr. John Cotey about my idea and he enthusiastically approved.  We contacted Mr. Charles Schulz and made arrangements to meet.

Mr. Cotey traveled to California to meet with Mr. Schulz at his residence and office.  John was very much impressed when arriving at the horseshoe driveway with an appropriate name, something like, Peanuts Lane.  Mr. Schulz’s home was situated between two additional homes one on either side of the horseshoe drive.  Mr. Cotey was told the two extra houses were residential quarters for his parents and in-laws.  This revealed the true generous character of Mr. Schulz.  After a most welcoming introduction they got down to the business of applying the Peanut characters to an old toy bus.  Mr. Schulz loved the idea but remained adamant about protecting the final renditions of his Peanuts characters by remaining responsible for the final artwork.  This presented a technical problem due to the plotting method used to reproduce desired images on formed sheet metal.  This meant the characters had to be drawn in a seemingly distorted manner in order to reproduce the final character as Mr. Schulz intended.

As Mr. Cotey was leaving, he asked Mr. Schulz if he would mind giving both John and I his personal autograph.  He reassured John that he would have been hurt had he not asked.  His statement exhibited still another genuine character of Mr. Schulz.  He made a quick sketch of Snoopy sitting on his dog house for both John and I and signed it with his best wishes.

We contacted Mr. Schulz once again to help promote other products of ours by utilizing the Peanuts characters.  This responsibility was out of my hands and had to be controlled by Mr. Cotey as my time was dedicated to creating an affordable record player for the new, “Talking Peanut Bus”.  We found ourselves short of time to complete the project.  We all worked overtime and through family holidays in order to complete the project. 

J. Chein employed the services of a number of competent commercial and illustrative artists that had become quite familiar with the required distortion technique.  Because Mr. Schulz was not familiar with the distortion technique, we had our artist, Woody draw the desired characters on a formed prototype in our suggested positions and sent it to Mr. Schulz for review.  Abiding by Mr. Schulz request to oversee the final artwork, Mr. Schulz sent us his finished drawings of the characters as positioned on the prototype.  Woody transferred Mr. Schulz’s artwork by plotting the characters onto a sheet of grid lined illustration board and completed the camera ready artwork was.  The resulting images are distorted when seen on flat printing plates.  The system is identical to plotting the longitude and latitude of a continent on a flat map from a spherical globe.

I am personally very proud of the resulting record player design.  By applying the basic principals taught to us by Mr. Thomas Edison when he invented the cylindrical recording system for his Phonograph, I was able to duplicate its complete functionality and quality of sound.

We were informed by Mr. Schulz that CBS recorded the Peanut characters voices for prior TV shows.  In contacting CBS we were able to retain the same young actors whose voices were heard each year on the presentation of the popular Charlie Brown’s TV Christmas Show.  We went to CBS in New York City to meet with the actors.  CBS recorded and cut a special 3 inch diameter record using an 8 sound grove tracking system.  The multiple grooves gave better odds for the needle arm to find a different sound groove with every push of the operating button.  This allowed different messages to be heard with each push of the button using only one record.  In addition, I asked CBS to cut the sound grooves vertically rather than the customary horizontal manner.  In this way I was able to achieve the same quality sound made by Thomas Edison’s phonograph.  The resulting vibrations forced a vertical movement of the needle arm that transferred the sound vibrations to the plastic speaker.  What seemed most impressive to me was being able to clearly hear high quality sound of the youth’s voices coming from a little toy record player.  It must be brought to mind, with the exception of a battery operated motor, there were no miniature electronics.  The Talking Peanut Bus was a complete mechanical toy.

The sound system’s direct cost was $.19 cents each which included the electric motor.  The turntable was turned by means of a soundless rubber “O” ring.  After the product was introduced, we had many calls from a variety of businesses asking us to sell the record player so they could apply it to their products.  This could not be done easily because half of the housing was injection molded plastic the other half was the old sheet metal bus.

I had one of the Peanut buses at home for many following years.  No matter how often the red button was pressed, the resulting sound was always an unexpected high quality voice. 
It’s amazing that box held together almost a half century.  At the time, this box was considered very unusual because it displayed the entire item.  In fact, it was so unique that J. Chein & Company was given a patent on it.

My dearest friend, Mr. John Cotey passed away a few years ago.  We made a great team because we thought alike and had complimentary abilities.  The world needs more men like him.

The photos of the Peanuts Bus are used with permission from the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa California.  Please go visit them in person or on line at

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Mr. Bones, He's so real!

Mr. Bones (Fleer Chewing Gum) 1977

For the technically minded, concept art  was usual drawn at my desk on a white tablet  8 1/2 X 11 , a 45 degree drafting triangle and a pencil

Children that frequent movies seemed to be enchanted by the Dracula demons and death-like stories. Even today It seems to be a recurring theme in movies.  Because of this attraction, I thought this was a good basis for a new container.  It was almost a no-brainer choice of a container, a Coffin.  In addition, tableting dextrose candy into bone shapes should not be difficult. 
You can see from my notes below, designing products isn't just having an idea.  There is actual math and geometry involved.

Thomas A. Tegan was the executive vice president of new business development at Fleers.  (Or the guy responsible for increasing sales).
I like to think I made his job a bit more easier

 Mr. Tegan became quite excited by the Coffin container idea.  He carried the idea a little further with the concept of a human skeleton puzzle.  He discovered and purchased costly machinery and made appropriate dies to form the dextrose tablets.  He then added interlocking ends so that a 

human form could be assembled similar to a Jig-Saw puzzle.  They named the product, Mr. Bones.  It was a challenge to get enough parts to make a full Skeleton.  If you had most of the parts, chances were, you ate some before you got your next Mr. Bones.

 Mr. Bones enjoyed great volume of sales and is now a prime collector item.  Check Ebay for the latest prices.

We would like to thank Todd Franklin for his generosity in sharing his Mr. Bones photos be sure to visit his blog at

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pencil Revolution

As Halloween approaches we are preparing the segment for Mr. Bones!

In the meantime, dad has had a bit of a write up on another web page the specializes in PENCILS!

As you have seen, drawing has always been passion.  Having the proper tools always helps.  Sure you can doodle with your No.2 from Office Depot.  But if you are really serious about your art  you to need to know about your media.  Thats where pencil Revolution comes in.

Here is the link


The Editor

Friday, September 6, 2013

Mail Box Candy

Mail Box (Fleer Chewing Gum) 1979

With the success of the Fire Plug, there was a demand for new products.  Fortunately, I had a number of designs in mind waiting to be illustrated and submitted.  One of which was a Mailbox replica.  Similar to the neighborhood fire hydrants, the riveted sheet metal mail boxes were also scattered throughout the neighborhood.  A replica would result in a good container product because children were accustomed to seeing them every day and it would seem like having one of their own in their pocket.  Pencil and paper in hand, my son Steve and I went down the street to the nearest mailbox and began sketching and taking measurements.This included every rivet head.

   With this information I illustrated the idea with the drawing above, and submitted it to Fleer Gum.  One needs to remember that this was in the day before digital cameras, email or CAD.
  The concept was approved and I created the engineering drawing.   These drawings were complex engineering drawings done with out computers.  Paper, pencil, drafting board.  A mistake was time consuming and costly if not caught. These drawings sometimes took months to complete.

Jason Liebig has some great photos of  Mailbox display as well as other great candies of the past.

Jason is a candy historian and we are proud that he has us in his collection.
Fleer - Mailbox 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Art and Sketches

I started drawing again. 


 Here are some of my sketches.  My aging eyes and dexterity is apparent to me, but it's good to be holding a pencil again.... just for the fun of it.


As I progressed through this process and got to know my medium and get my form back.  It just goes to prove, you are never too old.








Had our 12th class today.  Same model as last week.  I have been bearing down on the dark colors, especially black but was getting poor tonal quality.  I went back to using graphite over the pastel pencils and the drawing started to get dark.  I’ll keep pushing on




Saturday, May 25, 2013


Fire Plug (Fleer Chewing Gum) 

Reis O'Brien

The first product that Fleer Chewing Gum approved was the Fireplug.  The success was about the same as I had experienced at Topps.  Millions of Fireplugs were sold during the first year which resulted in a boom in sales of the entire product line.

  I was told that the Boy Scout Association had shown interest in the Fireplug because it made for a great water tight match container.  The fireplug was the first  "DOG APPROVED" candy.  It was a natural to have candy dogs in the fireplug.  The sketches of the puppies were done by a young teenage artist, Mike Simonetti.  Mike, a friend of my son, was an extremely gifted artist for his age..or any age.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Consulting Design Practice    1975

Now separated from the security of Topps Chewing Gum, I began looking for clients in the confectionery field because I enjoyed the work.  Most of the contacts were quite interested but backed away realizing the upfront investment was too large a risk.  Only Fleer Gum was interested probably because the company was on its way out of business due to lack of sales.  The Vice President of new products Mr. Thomas A. Tegan was successful in convincing Mr. Al Peck the CEO to make the last ditch effort and he approved the investment in tooling.  As it turned out, it was the best decision they ever made.  The business turnaround at Fleers was so well received that Forbes magazine did a story on them.

At the time, all this design activity was executed with paper and pencil.  CAD software and email systems were not available to the general design public.  I illustrated the ideas as accurately as possible when submitting for approval.  When approved, I converted the idea into a mechanical drawing so the toolmakers could accurately reproduce the desired thoughts behind the product.  My combined skills as an artist and that of an engineer made it possible for dimensionally accurate drawings of the desired concept.

Original Fireplug Candy container drawing submitted to Fleer

I have been asked many times how I came up with my container ideas.  I hadn’t given it much thought except that being a kid at heart helped.  As a child, growing up in South Philadelphia, playing around fire plugs (hydrants) was almost a daily activity.  They were found everywhere in the old neighborhood.  I believe that memory led me to design the Fire Plug container.  The intricate grooved surface texture was the result of planed tooling paths as well as good molding practice.  Once again my combined abilities of an artist and engineer resulted in a good design and a practical configuration that reduced the tooling cost and eased the product into molding production.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Trash Can Candy (Topps Chewing Gum) 1975

Topps corporate leaders became hesitant in continuing with new products because of the high financial risk and stagnated in making decisions.  I proposed a few new container ideas but they continued to be hesitant about decisions.  Finally, I designed and engineered the less expensive Trash Can container for small fee. The Trash Can was very successful for many years thereafter.

This is a rather short story for such a successful and well loved product. There is a lesson in here some where about the value of ideas and marketing I am sure.  Maybe some MBA student can write his thesis paper on the subject.

Photos  Reise Obrien visit his site at

Fire Plug story coming soon! 

Monday, March 11, 2013


Snap-a-Gator (Topps Chewing Gum) 1973

I applied the Mira-Hinge Corp spring hinge technology when creating the Snap-a-Gator, the second container for Topps Chewing Gum.  The kids loved it because they were able to bite each other by snapping the spring loaded alligator jaw with their thumbs.  The teeth were recessed so no one could get hurt.  My son recall a little girl classmate in the 4th grade who walked around the classroom with the Snap-a-Gator in her pocket with the head sticking out.

I started to create the Snap-a-Gator concept by sketching a top loading container.  A few characters of interest were selected but the alligator drew my attention.  I envisioned the Alligator to be the best selection because its jaw opens upward a naturally.  The Spring Hinge Geometry contributed towards a natural fit and became part of the jaw’s rear muscle.  By adding lifelike features and surfaces, the container took on a somewhat realistic appearance.  In order to make a plastic injection mold, the entire container had to be hand carved by a skilled sculptor in the field by the name of Mr. Bob Lemon.  He accepted the challenge and when he finished carving we had a lifelike reproduction of an Alligator body and upper jaw.  The material of choice used to carve the figure was Acetate.

This material carves best and allows minor errors to be quickly corrected by adding a new piece of acetate to the error spot with Acetone then continue carving.  The carving was sent to the caster to begin making a large production mold.  Getting the Snap-a-Gator out to the market was top priority.  Unfortunately, Mr. Shorin refused to wait the required additional week to harden the steel mold and gave the orders to run the unfinished mold and start production.

Although the Snap-a-Gator experienced fantastic sales, production capability was spotty at best.  As a result of running the non-hardened mold, the steel squashed under the great pressure of molding and the critical fit dimensions were lost.  There were many problems that occurred during the life of the mold causing many expensive stop-to-repair periods.  Many of the cavities were no longer operative and eventually the mold destroyed itself and the product ceased to exist.

Special Thanks To Tina D.  for photos of Snap A Gator.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Big Tooth (Topps Chewing Gum) 1970

My affiliation to the design and creating new products for the children candy and chewing gum market began when introduced to Mr. Joe Shorin, Vice President of Topps Chewing Gum.  My task was to solve a problem involving design and production of an innovation of Mr. Shorin.  Essentially, their problem consisted of lacking knowledge in design and production of plastic product.  Topps wanted a plastic container in the shape of a tooth as a response to a group of activists bent on getting candy coated chewing gum off the market because they believed it caused tooth decay in children.  The design involved a 2-3/4” high tooth standing upright on 4 roots with a hinged lid closing the container.  The complete container consisted of one piece of plastic which lowered the tooling and production costs.  This was the first novelty gum container of the era and it was named, Big Tooth.  The tooth form attracted children which Mr. Shorin accurately envisioned as a great marketing tool.

This was the introduction of the after use, (play value) container.  We learned it held tremendous attraction for children and sold in the millions of units.  This market demand improved sagging gum and candy sales of the entire product line.

The success of Big Tooth was so encouraging that it created a demand for follow up ideas.  At the time, I was collaborating with Mira-Hinge Corp, a Canadian firm dedicated to the development of new ideas that utilized thin-sectional characteristics of the new plastic material, Polypropylene.  This was the introduction of a unitary spring plastic hinge geometry now seen as commonplace on a variety of bottle screw caps.  The patented Mira Spring Hinge was an inseparable part of my next product, the Snap-a-Gator.

 Photo: Jason Liebig

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Art work by Vero Ricci    All Rights Reserved

Hello and Welcome to my new Blog!!
My Name is Vero Ricci and I am the Inventor/Designer of what is now know as collectible Vintage Candy Containers.  My products include: Trash Can Candy (Topps) Snappy Gator (Topps), Fireplug (Fleers) Mr. Bones (Fleers) among others.  All were great sellers in the 1970s.

I have decades of products and stories behind the products in my head.  It's time to let them out to the world.

I will be writing about the  candy containers first.  There seems to be a great interest in these on the web.  The toys I made for Charles Schulz will have to wait a bit.

 I will also be sharing my views on art, plastic injection molding, and the business of product development in general

Vero Ricci
  Photo above of some of the products of the era.  Trash Can, Snappy Gator, Fireplug, Bed Bugs are my designs.

Reis O'Brien
Reis O'Bien's Blog

Todd Franklin
neatocoolville Web Site