Box Vox

packaging as content

April 2, 2014

An Incomplete Mens Fragrance Package: Colours


Another example of what I like to call an incomplete package: Alexander Julian’s “Colours” mens fragrance packaging.

Not that what’s lacking is necessarily necessary. But by wrapping the Egyptian style bottle image around the corner of the carton, as they’ve done, two panels of the box, each provided a truncated, incomplete picture of the package’s contents.


Packaging, designed in this manner, can accomplish a couple of things…

At the corner of the box, the two parts of the bottle meet to form a more 3-dimensional, convex image.

And — although, I don’t have a photo of it — this is the kind of design where, if the packages are lined up alongside of one another in a group, they will complete each other. (See also: The Incomplete Package Revisited)


(More “Colours” after the fold…) (more…)

April 1, 2014

Hollow Nickels & Roach Motels


A bit more about Soviet spy, Rudolf Ivanovich Abel and the hotel where he was arrested in 1957:

In addition to the aforementioned Sucrets boxes, Abel was also in possession of a number of objects that had been hollowed out and transformed into containers. A pen, a shaving brush, a block of wood, etc. —each designed with a secret compartment for concealing encoded messages. It was a hollowed-out nickel, paid to a paperboy in 1953, that eventually led to his arrest.


Last week we read a description of New York’s Latham Hotel (and Abel’s arrest there) that made it seem thoroughly disreputable. For a contrasting view, consider how his arrest is portrayed in the 2009 Russian biopic, “U.S. government against Rudolf Abel.” (directed by Vladimir Nahabtseva, starring Yuri Belyaev as Abel)

Here, Abel is not the “scrawny, stoical man” described in U.S. newspapers, but a dignified and reserved секретный агент, who (by his own account) outsmarts the FBI to a certain degree. And although, in the FBI’s account, he answers the door in the nude, in this film, the FBI breaks down his hotel room door and he’s wearing underwear.

Also getting a more flattering portrayal in the Russian movie: the Latham Hotel.

In 1977, when NYC’s Department of Buildings deemed our shared loft at 85 South Street unsafe without sprinklers, the city temporarily housed us (my roommates at the time: JD King, Dan Walworth, John Miller and me) in a room at the Latham Hotel.

Like Rudolf Abel, we were aspiring artists, although unlike Col. Abel, none of us was a Soviet spy. At least I know I wasn’t. I can’t really say for certain about the others. (And, come to think of it, in 1977, from a certain angle Miller did bear a passing resemblance to the young Abel.)

Looking back at our time there, I don’t remember thinking it was as disreputable in 1977, as the media made it out to be in 1957. Consulting with my former roommates, Walworth remembered that we had a hot plate in our room, which reminded me that we also had a small refrigerator. These appliances may have been a clue that our hotel also served as an SRO, but to me, at the time, I thought it a luxurious convenience not to have to eat out for breakfast every morning.

Miller remembered that our rooms had roaches which we had tried to combat with the newly trademarked “Roach Motel.” Unfortunately the cleaning staff kept throwing them out when they cleaned our rooms, so I tried attaching signs to them that read: Please do not discard roach motels. Don’t remember whether that worked. The problem was, as Miller now puts it: the roaches “checking into” a motel when they were already hotel guests.


These hollow, rectangular roach traps with their simulated wood grain, now strike me as oddly analogous to Abel’s “sanding block” which was also thrown into the trash at the Latham Hotel…

[FBI agents] searched the room, but didn’t find much except, in the wastepaper basket, a piece of two-by-four. just a block of wood. No one could figure out what it was, but it had to have some significance; you didn’t just find pieces of two-by-four in Manhattan hotels. Finally, one of the agents got disgusted and threw it against the wall. It split open. Inside was a cavity containing microfilm.

Mark Riebling
Wedge: From Pearl Harbor to 9/11.
How the Secret War Between the FBI and CIA Has Endangered National Security


But in the 1977, we were thinking about bugs, not bugging devices or secret compartments. It just seemed like a funny paradox that the thoroughness of the Latham’s cleaning staff would mean more freedom for roaches.

While the FBI may have considered it a flop house for spies, there was time when the Latham Hotel was fairly elegant… (more…)

March 27, 2014

Rudolf Ivanovich Abel: Secrets & Sucrets

photo above (top): vintage 1950s Sucrets tins via eBay; lower photo with caption from Life Magazine, 1957


spy01190Further to our investigation of Sucrets boxes, confiscated as evidence, consider the case of Rudolf Ivanovich Abel. (also known as: Willie Fisher, Emil Robert Goldfus & Martin Collins)

Arrested at the Hotel Latham by the FBI in 1957, Abel was a Soviet secret agent. (also known as a: spy, scout or секретный агент)  It was purportedly thanks to his espionage that the Soviets were able to build their atom bomb(s).

His story holds personal interest for me for a couple of reasons.

a. His “cover” was that he was an artist — a painter/photographer with a studio in Brooklyn — and the hotel where he was living when he was arrested, turns out to be the same hotel where my roommates and I temporarily lived 20 years later. (I’ll have more to say about my stay at the Latham Hotel, in a future post.)

b. News coverage of his arrest often included the same kind of unwanted product placement that I was talking about in our previous post.

There was no relief from the ocean because what breeze there was came from inland, and no air-conditioning for Fisher at the Latham. It was not that sort of hotel. He slept with nothing on — if he slept at all. The stakeout had closed in on him. It was now more like a siege: eight FBI men on the eighth floor taking turns watching the corridor and listening from room 841, immediately next door to Fisher’s.

Agent Ed Gamber knocked on the door of room 839 and asked for Mr. Collins. Fisher woke and answered as he was. He was not even wearing his false teeth. He made no attempt to resist or run. After answering a few basic questions about himself (as Martin Collins), he fell silent. Gamber watched him sitting naked on a double bed that nearly filled the room and noticed his Adam’s apple rising and falling involuntarily in his throat.

… The contents of Fisher’s room at the Hotel Latham and his studio and storeroom were laid out on twenty-five large trestle tables in the FBI field office in Manhattan. They included a hollow-handled shaving brush, a complete set of cipher tables on edible silver foil, a lathe, three pairs of reading glasses, an Aladdin’s cave of specialist photographic equipment, a small library including The Ribald Reader and a volume on thermonuclear weapons, dozens of Sucrets throat lozenge boxes, and a half-empty box of Sheik brand condoms.

Giles Whittell
Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War

For a product’s name brand to be mentioned in coverage like this — full of disreputable implications (“…not that sort of Hotel,” sleeping naked, false teeth) — might not be the type of product placement a company would wish for. Once your product has been sold, however, there’s just no telling where its packaging may wind up. (See also: Packaging & Moral Turpitude)

Declassified Sucrets

A secret 1959 CIA document, declassified in 2007, lists among Abel’s “PECULIARITIES” that he “…uses throat lozenges which come in a tin box (Sucrets, probably)”


(Another photo & more mentions of “Sucrets,” after the fold …) (more…)

March 25, 2014

Sucrets in the Evidence Locker

from a recent “personal property sale” auction: Group of (84) .22 Caliber Bullets (sold for $12)


If the 1994 “Sucrets Early Retirement Package” made the public’s “reuse” of their packaging into a popular news item, the company was pretty selective about which specific uses (and misuses) that it chose to publicize.

Most newspapers were happy to mention the queen of England’s crown jewels…

“An English jeweler who reset the crown of Queen Elizabeth II in 1954 once wrote the company to tell it that Her Majesty’s jewels were stored for a time in a Sucrets tin.”

NY Times, 1994

But, while their packaging has been frequently put to charming, domestic uses (ad hoc sewing kits, etc.) — there are other, less celebrated ways in which Sucrets tins have been long been re-purposed.

SmithKline Beecham may have briefly considered calling their new 1994 packaging the Sucrets “lozenge-locker,” but it’s in the police station evidence locker that plenty of Secrets tins have, themselves, been stored.

Worse still (for the brand), police blotters and court documents are not shy about mentioning the Sucrets brand name. (See also: Packaging & Moral Turpitude)

As the officer was obtaining identification from the occupants of the car, he observed on the street 15-20 feet in front of his car, as shown by his headlights, an open Sucrets tin, four hand-rolled cigarettes and a corncob pipe. The officer stated that he had been involved in at least eight arrests where Sucrets tins were used for concealing marijuana and, based on his experience, a corncob pipe was a common device for smoking marijuana. He also stated that there were several parked cars in the vicinity and he had not seen from where the objects had come.

Peolple v. Gottanborg
Circuit Court of Knox County, 1976


Officer Anderson found marijuana seeds, burned marijuana cigarettes and more amphetamines in the nightstand in the bedroom. Also found was a metal Sucrets box which when opened was found to contain two syringes and hypodermic needles. The Sucrets box was not large enough to contain a handgun.

Thompson v. Superior Court
Court of Appeals of California, Fifth Appellate District, 1977


(More from the Sucrets evidence locker, after the fold…) (more…)

March 21, 2014

The “Sucrets Showcase” pack (with porthole)


In 1994, Sucrets came out with a new version of their container for sore throat lozenges. Where, for the previous 60 some odd years, the brand had used a tin box, the company then came out with a new polypropylene box with a clear, round (porthole style) window in the lower right corner.

sucrets-groupingThis box was designed and patented by Kornick Lindsay.

As with Laura Handler’s bottle for Perry Ellis, the window is flush with the surrounding opaque surface—the porthole giving a nice, luxury-liner touch to a fast-moving-consumer-good.

The roll-out was carefully orchestrated, by Ketchum Public Relations, with contests and research into the different ways that consumers had reused their tin Sucrets containers in the past.

Announcement of the new package was framed as a “Sucrets Early Retirement Package” party for the old, tin package.

SucretsStory-1994Looking back at the news coverage of Sucrets’ packaging change, it’s apparent that, in most publications, the new plastic pack may have been overshadowed by the “retiring” tin pack.

The company estimates that between a fifth and a third of the boxes manufactured since 1932 were kept for other uses after the lozenges were consumed during at least two billion bouts with sore throats.

Uses for the tins were as varied as the customers who bought them.

Some of the British crown jewels were kept in the tins while Queen Elizabeth II’s crown was being reset during the 1950s, the company said.

In letters to the manufacturer, Vietnam veterans praised its airtightness in keeping photos of wives and girlfriends — as well as cigarettes and matches — dry during the monsoon season.

“But it’s had a lot of other uses,” Lindsay said. “It’s been used often as a coffin for goldfish and pet turtles.”

During the tin’s 60th anniversary two years ago, SmithKline asked consumers to list their post-sore throat uses for the boxes.

The favorite: a storage place for sewing items. Other favorite items put aside included office supplies such as paper clips and staples, hair accessories, small pieces of hardware, coins, jewelry — and, of course, other medicines such as antacids.

AP News Archive

Reading over all the press releases and publicity that their change in packaging received at the time, it’s surprising not be able to find more photos online of the “new” 1994 packaging being announced.

TSucretsLineArthe fact that I can’t find any Sucrets containers (with portholes) on eBay, makes me suspect that they weren’t in production for very long. Surviving examples must be very rare, indeed.

So what happened?

(Asked and answered, after the fold…)


March 20, 2014

Nail Polish Bottle with (Porthole) Window


Another “porthole bottle” — this one for Gelish brand “soak off gel polish.”

One small “porthole” window affords the only glimpse of the product’s color in an otherwise opaque white bottle. Gelish CEO, Danny Haile holds both design and functional patents. The functional part has to do with the product’s sensitivity to light.

After completing the formulation process, it was time to create the perfect packaging. Obviously it was going to be a bottle… but we had to decide on coating or labeling. Powder coating was one idea but it was hard to get an exact colour match – we didn’t want people having to second-guess the difference in colour. We also couldn’t use a regular polish bottle with a  label because, to make sure the new formula wouldn’t cure, it would have had to of been in brown bottle – so what to do? We eventually decided on a white powder coated bottle with a window in the center – as pictured above – so clients can see the exact colour

The Salon Magazine

Nice to see a porthole bottle for nail polish, but I do have some misgivings about the Gelish brand mark. By dotting the “i” with a leaf shape, they’ve made it look a bit too much like a lowercase “f.” Word looks more like “Gelfsh” which in my head I’m pronouncing like “selfish.” (Oddly, there is a “Gel Fish” nail salon in Switzerland.)

See also: Uncapped Landfill Bottle #6 and Holding on by a Fingernail: 13 Nail Polish Package Design Patents

March 19, 2014

Two Types of Porthole Packaging

Left: Old Spice Gift Set #3291 from Old Spice Collectibles; right: opium tins from CINARC


1. Packaging designed to resemble a porthole in function or appearance:

A 1972 Good Housekeeping Magazine photo caption, “Porthole package: Old Spice set is 4% ounces of after shave and cologne. About $5. By Shulton.”

(Old Spice Gift Set #3291 — after shave and cologne “packaged in a ship’s porthole”)

2. Packaging designed to fit through a porthole:

From a 1943 Life Magazine article about smuggling drugs:

The porthole package

Chinese trying to smuggle drugs into San Francisco are responsible for the porthole package. This is a six-foot, burlap-wrapped cylinder loaded with salt, and with an inner, waterproof case that holds from 5 to 2.0 pounds of raw opium. The cylinder is shoved through a porthole when a ship docks. It sinks, but bobs up when the salt has melted — an interval that can be varied by changing the amount of salt .

“Narcotics” Life Magazine, 1943

Not that it was a new thing for packages of opium to be designed to fit through portholes. A 1929 congressional hearing for “Enforcement of the Narcotic Laws” (H.R.16874) also noted the same packaging concern:

“The opium was contained in 17 packages wrapped in burlap and well roped, the packages sufficiently slender to permit passage through a porthole…”

(The images in the entirety, after the fold…) (more…)

March 18, 2014

Porthole Bottles


Friday’s post about the “See Thru” Nibb-its bag with porthole windows reminded me that I’ve been noticing other packaging with round windows. Here are two bottles offering “porthole” views of their contents….

1. Perry Ellis men’s cologne bottle

Laura Handler, whose kinetic “flirt” bottle we looked at last week, also designed this one:

Specially treated metal over shells on both the front and the back have “dot” shaped cutouts that reveal the flush glass bottle inside.

Promoted as “dots” pertaining to Perry Ellis branding, these windows are clearly portholes as much as they they are dots.



2. “The Porthole” infuser

Martin Kastner’s design for an infusing vessel alludes to Jules Verne submarine portholes…

The idea for the Porthole was born during a conversation with bar chefs preparing for the opening of the Aviary. We were discussing “fast infusions” — cocktails evolving during the course of the time it takes to serve them — and it occurred to me that what we’re really looking for is a window into another world, space, and time. An image of the submarine porthole in Karel Zeman’s 1958 movie ‘The Fabulous World of Jules Verne’ came to my mind and the design direction was set.

Kickstarter campaign


(A “Porthole” video and a Perry Ellis print ad, after the fold…) (more…)

March 17, 2014

4 packaging-related artworks by Paul Erschen

Detail from “Recipes for Mold and Sun” Salvaged jar of chicken parts, Hydrocal casting 2011

Chicago-based artist, Paul Erschen’s diverse creative output, as filtered through our more narrow, package-related lens.

1. “Recipes for Mold and Sun” was a collaborative exhibition that Erschen and Rachel Ettling held in 2011. (See also: Propo Packaging)

“Untitled”, slavaged canned goods, Hydrocal castings of canned goods.

(3 more package-related artworks, after the fold…) (more…)

March 14, 2014

The Nibb-its “See Thru” Bag

Nibb-itsLineArtFrom a 1968 issue of Potato Chipper magazine:

NEW CHIPS IN PORTHOLES: Kelly Food Products, Inc., of Decatur, 111., has just launched these cheese and. bar-b-que flavor potato “kurls” described by the maker as the only snack of its kind. The fluffy light strips with a curl are made under license from the Nibb-It Corporation of America, Los Angeles, and are sold under the name “Nibb-its.” Kelly is selling the snack in midwestern supermarkets and grocery stores in 3/4%- ounce and 3%-ounce packs. The package design, patented by Nibb-It. showcases the treat in eleven clear porthole windows that dominate the package surface.

If this package was patented, it’s one that I haven’t been able to find. Okay. I just found it. Not a design patent, but a trademark — the Nibb-its “circles & squares” design.

CA312287“Nibb-it” apparently licensed their snack and its trademark bag design to a number companies. These images happen to be “Kitty Clover” brand but there’s also evidence of the same Nibb-its logo and the same basic “portholes” package design being used by Kelly Food Products, Cain’s, etc.

While I can’t say for certain, I’m wondering if this is the same Nibb-its snack food bag that Doris Gianninoto is credited with art directing for Bell Brands Foods in the 1966 issue of Journal of the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

Frank Gianninoto was apparently married five times, and one of those five wives was the German-born Doris who worked along side of her husband in the sixties at Frank Gianninoto and Associates.


With its inadvertent sixties sexism, the 1967 article about her above, reads like an episode of Mad Men…

The vivacious brunette gets carried away when she talks about her work.

She is “mad about it” and goes at top speed on every job. More than 40 persons are employed by the designing company, but Doris and her husband oversee major accounts…

Doris is quick to say that “American women are the luckiest women in the world!”

Her reason, from a package designer’s viewpoint: “They have more products to choose from than women anywhere. They are courted by manufacturers and the consumer is queen.”

(Some 1960s Nibb-its advertising, after the fold…) (more…)