Warner Bros. Glasses - The Early Years

First published in CGN #67 August/September 2001


Byline: Matt Maloney and Paul Merrole

In the history of Warner Bros. cartoon characters on glass, two thing are clear:
          1) The Pepsi / W.B. promotions of the 70's were hugely successful, and resulted in the distribution of vast numbers of glasses.
          2) The earliest promotions featuring W.B. characters in the 30's were apparently of such small production that those glasses are among the rarest and most sought after today.

     Why is that? The answer is that the cartoon characters from Warner Bros, who had become extremely popular by the 70's, were virtual unknowns forty years earlier or were yet to be created. The cartoon world of the 1930's was dominated by Walt Disney. It was with Disney's characters who blazed the trail of cartoon characters on promotional glassware. Since his films were the ones most widely seen and admired at that time, his characters would have been the ones with the most promotional value. And what a win-win situation those glasses must have been for Disney! Food processors were paying licensing fees to use his characters on thousands of glasses containing their products, and in doing so were greatly increasing the visibility and value of those characters.
     Enter Leon Schlesinger. Leon was a small-time money man, business friend of the Warners, and owner of the studio that made their cartoons. He had only entered into the cartoon production business because he knew he could rely on the Warner brothers to distribute his cartoon output, assuring him of making a buck. Using his studio's characters on promotional glassware, just like Disney's, was too good an idea to have escaped his attention. But while several of Disney's characters were already well known by 1936, the first film starring Porky Pig, who would develop into the Schlesinger studio's first major character, had just been released.
     So exactly what was done next? Unfortunately, we can not say with certainty. There is no mention of these glasses in any of the many books about the Warner Bros. studio, including those authored by Warner Bros. employees. The good news is that enough other information can be gathered to establish a pretty definite timeline and likely course of events. Researching the studio's film output and the history of each character has enabled us to date the glasses. Studying the physical details of glasses found so far has enabled us to confirm that more than one series of glasses exists.

THE CHARACTERS:
     Just like their live-action counterparts, a cartoon character may make an appearance in one film, then never be seen again. If we were to find an undated promotion featuring that character today and knew the year the film was released, we would know the year of that promotion. So it goes for the glass featuring Patrick Parrot. He appeared in one cartoon, after which the studio gave up on him and never used him again. The film, and so likely the glass, is from 1937.
But what if the character became a star, and went on to appear in many films? Well, just as we can pretty accurately date an old photo of a live action star by his appearance, we can roughly pin down the years of the glasses featuring Porky Pig and Daffy Duck. Cartoon characters may not get old, but they do something even better. They evolve. Their appearance, especially in their early years, is refined and altered by their creators as time goes by. The Daffy Duck on that early glass is the way he appeared about 1938.

     Also, on some of the glasses, the characters are shown in a scene from a specific cartoon. For example, there are several different glasses that picture Porky and/or Petunia dressed as bride and groom, just as they appeared in the film “Porky's Romance”, released in 1937. In addition to the characters and the films, another big clue as to the year of issue is the L.S.C. copyright. Some glasses have it, some don't. The letters stand for “Leon Schlesinger Corporation”, the name under which Leon Schlesinger Productions established a licensing division in September 1937. Glasses with that mark would have to have been issued after that time.

THE GLASSES:
The glasses fit into one of three different series.

SERIES #1:

   • Thin glasses with slight vertical optic ribs; 5" height
   • Marked "Merrie Melodies" or "Looney Tunes", no LSC copyright
   • Scenes and characters from specific cartoons pictured

     All evidence points to this being the first series of glasses issued. Since the studio did not yet have a roster of established characters, a logical first step would have been to promote the cartoons themselves. Each one of the known glasses in this series shows a scene that relates to a specific cartoon, all of which were films released in 1936 or early 1937. And, sure enough, none of these glasses have the L.S.C. copyright. So which appears to be the oldest of the old? The "Merrie Melodies" glass featuring two thug birds, of which a few copies first surfaced only recently, pictures a scene from the obscure cartoon "I'm a Big Shot Now". That film, and so likely that glass, has the earliest release date, April 1936. It will be interesting to see if an even older glass shows up in the future. It is interesting to note that of the known glasses in this series, the "Big Shot" glass is the only one featuring two-color paint. It is also the only "Merrie Melodies" glass. Could this relate to the fact that at the time the "Merrie Melodies" cartoons were in color, while "Looney Tunes" were in black & white? Also notable is that there are at least three different glasses that feature scenes from the film "Porky's Romance". Cartoon enthusiasts today consider "Porky's Romance" to be one of the studio's best early efforts. It featured an entertaining story, exceptional direction, and animation. It was the film in which Petunia Pig was introduced. Might there be more glasses featuring the "Porky's Romance" film, because the studio made an exceptional promotional effort for it?

SERIES #2:
   • Heavy glasses with slight vertical optic ribs; 4 3/4" height
   • Character named; with L.S.C. copyright
   • Individual characters pictured
     These images are drawn in a style similar to the images on series #1 glasses, but the characters themselves are the focus of this promotion. All the characters featured on the known glasses originated in 1937 or 1938. The appearance of the L.S.C. copyright on all of them confirms that they could not have been issued earlier. In fact, one character in particular could not have appeared on glass until 1938. The name Elmer Fudd had never been used before. And in case you've ever wondered about that nerdy little guy with the big nose pictured on this Elmer glass, yes, that's really the character that first bore the name Elmer. He had evolved from an earlier character named Egghead, and obviously still had a way to go before resembling the character we know as Elmer today.

SERIES #3:
   • Heavy, smooth sided glasses; 5" height
   • Character named; with L.S.C. copyright
   • Individual characters pictured in 'negative' image
     Glasses in series #3 are different in several significant ways. Unlike the glasses in series #2, the glass blanks that were used have smooth sides. They are typically 1/4" taller than series #2 glasses. And on these glasses the image of the character is presented in 'negative'. While you could describe the images on series #2 glasses as looking like line drawings done in a colored ink, here they are just the opposite. As in a photo negative, the areas normally left clear appear as filled in, while the lines are left clear; an interesting idea that resulted in unusually bold images.
Height appears to have been consistent within each of the three series. At least it was on all the glasses for which we were able to verify the measurement. But, considering the small number of glasses represented, size variations remain a definite possibility.
     The final step, how these glasses got into the hands of the public, remains a mystery at this point. The glasses in series #2 and series #3 look like they contained processed food of some type. But if so, what was the product? Having found nothing in print to answer that question, we can only hope that a labeled glass shows up some day. In any case, judging by the small number of glasses that have shown up at all, it seems likely that their use was limited to only one or two short distributions.
     The glasses in series #1 look too fragile to have been used as food containers, and it's even less likely that conclusive evidence will ever surface as to how they were distributed. One possibility to consider is they each related to a specific cartoon - perhaps they were used as promotional items at the theaters where the cartoons premiered. The practice of distributing glassware to patrons on special nights as an added inducement to visit the theater had become well established during the Depression. Handing out a drinking glass featuring the feature character cartoon would have been doubly effective.
     The table of known glasses that we have included here cannot be considered a complete list. It is the most comprehensive reference list available at this time, gathered from our research and from the input of the few collectors who took the time to respond to our inquiries. To those of you who did... you know who you are... thank you again on behalf of all collectors.


 

 

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