Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Finding Magnolias

When I was a young teenager in the early 1960s my mother took my brothers and me on a walking tour of downtown Los Angeles, where she had grown up. We went into an old-fashioned candy store and browsed. Her eyes lit up when she saw a type of candy she loved but hadn’t seen for many years.

We bought a few boxes of them. I remembered that they were small sugar balls with flavored liquid inside, and I also recalled their strange name: magnolias. As years and then decades passed, I occasionally searched for them and asked about them in various candy stores. In every case, no one who sold candy had ever even heard of them. Eventually I stopped asking.

Early in 2008, I thought about searching for them on the internet and discovered an article about them! Someone had found magnolias, had bought a crateful, and then raved about them online. Fortunately she also provided contact information. I immediately called Startup Candy Company in Provo, Utah and spoke to Jon Startup, the fifth generation owner of the company. (Yep, Startup is really the family surname.)

“Yes,” he said—not only did he sell magnolias but the founder of their company had invented the candy in 1876. Startup Candy Company was and always had been the only source of magnolias. He claimed also that his great-great-grandfather had invented the candy bar in the middle nineteenth century, and that at one time Startup Candy was the largest candy manufacturer in the nation. The Great Depression had nearly caused them to go out of business, but the firm had managed barely to survive. Jon now runs the company—a fairly small, family operation since the 1930s; Jon answers the phone himself. He did say that every now and then someone calls up, as I did, with a story that he or she had been looking for magnolias for thirty or forty years. “Oh, so you’re one of those!” he said when I explained the background to my search. I ordered a box and after it arrived, I enjoyed it so much that I immediately decided to put a post about magnolias up on my blog. It’s taken several months, but here it is!

The little can is a facsimile of those sold across the nation in huge quantities a century ago. The one ounce can is pictured, but magnolias can be purchased in a ten ounce box too. Startup’s website says that magnolias were also known as Perfume Candies. Magnolias were the forerunner of breath mints. They come in assorted floral flavors and have a liquid center. White - Carnation, Pink - Rose, Orange - Jasmine, Yellow - Cachou, Green - Pear Blossom, Blue & Purple - Violet. The artwork on the 1 ounce tin is a reproduction of a package from the early 1900s.

Maybe some of the readers of this blog will order some magnolias; whether or not you actually like this candy, it is a rare and historic confection! Here’s their website.


Tim said...

I love finding connections to history like that! And they're a good candy too.

Erin said...

That's really neat! I love it that the candies all have flower names.

Susan Dennis said...

Perhaps you'd be interested in more old-fashioned candies? Check out this link:


I know what it's like to yearn for something you ate and loved many (!) years ago.