This plaque hanging in the north entry of 1939 Hall commemorates Ephraim di Kahble ’39 — a fictitious Princetonian.
Marissa Webb
From the PAW Archives

In 1935, five freshmen led by Frederic E. Fox ’39 created what they called their “brain-child”: Ephraim di Kahble. This fellow class member “lived” at 36 University Place and made his first appearance on paper in The Daily Princetonian’s student directory on Nov. 19, 1935.

He then placed multiple ads in The Prince for a variety of interesting requests: $10 for a single cheering section seat to the Princeton vs. Dartmouth football game, a free ride in his Lincoln to the Yale game, and others that veered into the nonsensical. When interested students lined up at his door, the neighbors insisted di Kahble was held up at the library and said to leave a note.

Di Kahble became an active member of the class on paper. He advertised in The New York Times asking for an orange and black guinea pig because a guinea pig would make a better, less aggressive mascot than a tiger. His demise, though, came after he ran for class treasurer and the University Press Club began investigating. The Daily Princetonian mourned the loss of their fellow class member in a piece on Dec. 9, 1935, titled “Tears of Grief Inundate 36 University Place, Mourning di Kahble’s Death From Exposure.”

But, despite di Kahble’s “death,” he continued to make regular reprises in the Princeton University community. He appeared in PAW’s Class Notes from time to time, and was commemorated with a plaque that still hangs in the north entry of 1939 Hall. It says: “In honor of the legendary Ephraim E. di Kahble ’39 and all unknown Princetonians, great and small, who have contributed to the welfare of the university.”

And in 1971, the piece below written by Frederic Fox ’39 appeared in PAW, describing a collection of “American Candy Wrappers in 1936” that was donated to the Graphic Arts Collection of Firestone Library by one Ephraim di Kahble ’39.

Candy Wrappers in 1936

Unusual Library Showing Reviewed by Frederic Fox ’39

(From the Nov. 16, 1971, issue of PAW)

This fall, the Graphic Arts Collection of Firestone Library held an unusual showing of “American Candy Wrappers in 1936,” from the collection of Ephraim di Kahble ’39. Frederic Fox, our reviewer, is a classmate of Mr. Kahble and, as it turns out, had himself developed an interest in candy bar wrappers at an early age. —ED.

No campus exhibit in recent years has stirred such widespread interest as the collection of candy wrappers from the decade of the 1930s now on display in Firestone Library’s Graphic Arts Section. Undergraduates are fascinated by this sampling of authentic pop art. Alumni are attracted to it as a piece of nostalgia. Professors in fields as disparate as art history and sociology have cited it as “a study of commercial typographic style expressing an enduring human taste.” 

Because I was a classmate of the donor, the Hon. Ephraim di Kahble, OTB, of Tezcatlipoca, Mexico, I was asked to comment on his exhibit. Let me begin with a personal note on the donor himself.

As an undergraduate, I recall “Eph” had an awesome sweet tooth and an awesome dentist bill, both terrible liabilities during the Great Depression. So, to placate the former and to negate the latter, his father encouraged him to start collecting empty or unused (“mint”) candy wrappers. 

A page of candy wrapper images ran with the story about di Kahble’s candy wrapper exhibit, with this in the caption: “The hand in Rick Hesel’s photograph on the left shows the impressive size of vintage candy bars.”
Eph pursued the hobby voraciously. He wrote all of the major and many of the minor chocolate factories in the U.S. requesting a selection of their candy wrappers. As a history major, he emphasized the scholarly aspects of his request. He said the wrappers would be enormously valuable to future students of our culture, even as bits of pottery and amulets and Indian arrowheads help reveal the civilization of the past. Coming from Princeton University, Eph’s letters obviously impressed the chocolate factories. The manufacturers were also complimented by the lofty tones of his request. They responded generously. All the big one: Nestlés, Hersheys, Whitmans, Schraffts, Suchards, Mars, Curtiss — even the New England Confectionery Company (Necco) of Cambridge, Mass. — came through handsomely. As one of them replied:

March 6, 1936

Mr. Ephraim di Kahble
39 University Place

Dear Sir:

We are most interested to hear of the collection you are making of contemporary chocolate labels. As you say, it certainly will be interesting in years to come.
Assuming you mean outside wraps on chocolate bars, we are today sending you herewith our compliments, samples of the three bar wraps now in our line at this time. 
If we can be of further service, do not hesitate to write us.

Very truly yours,
Stephen F. Whitman & Son, Inc. 

Soon, Eph’s room was awash with wrappers. (His present collection totals well over a thousand.) And among these was the hard-to-get Beich “Truffle Bar” (Bloomington, Ill.) and the equally obscure but delicious “Lun-Shun” manufactured by the Bonita Co. of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. 

Incidentally, that “Truffle Bar” wrapper is considered to be a superb example of the “art déco” school that was so influential in the 1920s and early 1930s and still commands considerable interest. Comparable design can be seen in the architecture of the Empire State building, especially in the interiors of its elevators. 

If one stands, for example, in front of the exquisitely realized “Bike Bar,” it is readily apparent how the streamlined, international style moved from the Paris of Rene Laleguire and Geroges de Feurle, through the dramatic unity of artist and technician in the “Bike Bar” itself, and finally on to the Hollywood of Busby Berkeley. To take another example, the “Buy Jiminy” bar, complete with the imprimatur of the American Medical Association on the label, represents the absorption of synthetic cubism into the artisan tradition of the French objects de luxe.

Credit is deserved but rarely given to the fine craftsmanship of the candy bar wrappers themselves. Sweet’s “Rodeo Bar” shows a fine sketch of a cowboy moving with unrestrained exuberance; the “B’rer Rabbit Molasses Bar” (with “old Louisiana flavor”) depicts a charming rabbit. The bold contrasts of the “Green Bay Packer,” manufactured by the Gazett Candy Co. of Green Bay, Wis., clearly point the way to Frank Stella ’58 and other modernists. Several bars, incidentally, are stamped with the once-familiar NRA eagle. 

The less celebrated candy companies were not overlooked. How could anyone leave out the famous, two-ounce “Blond Bar” from Norfolk, Va., or the tasty “Spud Bar” from Salt Lake City, Utah? Their distinctive wrappers, exhibited with ones like the nutritious “Bloodberry Gum” and “Broadway Bill” (“crack it up to chew it up”) suggest the characteristic social realism of the 1930s.

Other well-known classics like “Baby Ruth” and “Hershey’s” suggest by their size alone that the “good old days” were really good. In fact, they were three times better than now. This is clearly seen when comparing Eph’s 5¢ bar of “Hershey” with one costing 6¢ today. The old one weighs one-and-one-half ounces, while the new one weighs only one-third as much. But, of course, a Depression nickel was a lot harder for Eph to get from his father than 6¢ for a youngster now. 

In terms of economics, graphic arts, sociology — even Freudian psychology — candy wrappers offer a rich resource for further study. They might become the subject of a senior thesis. Surprisingly enough, very little research has yet been done in this fascinating field.