While many are calling this election a bitter contest, one Philadelphia business has found a sweet side to the electoral process. Shane Confectionery on Market Street is reviving a patriotic tradition dating back centuries.
Pavia Burroughs, clear toy candy manager and designer for Shane Confectionery, uses her background in sculpture to remove shards on molded clear toy candies for conventioneers. Think lollipop meets Mount Rushmore. There are candy busts of presidents WIlliam Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, and William McKinley; a large Ulysses S. Grant; and a coveted Billy Penn, as well as blue donkeys and red elephants.
The ingredients are simple: sugar, water, and maybe a little coloring boiled to the correct temperature.
Burroughs explains, “You take sugar, corn syrup, and water, and you mix it up and we brush down the sides with water because we don’t want any sugar crystals getting into the mix. If they do, your nice clear smooth sugar will start crystallizing in a few days, and you’ll have a very foggy, unclear clear toy.”
Clear toy candies had quite a run and Philadelphia was the center of the industry. At one point from the mid-19th to 20th century, Thomas Mills and Brothers occupied an entire block along 8th Street and Girard Avenue making thousands of clear toy candy molds and big copper pots like the one Burroughs uses.
“Our pot looks a little bit like the tin man’s hat — kind of funnel like,” says Burroughs, “and it has this grand spout on it very pointy and tapered that’s really great for pouring into clear toy small openings.”
Clear toy candy molds have become collectors’ items. Burroughs explains why they are so rare.
“These molds are made out of composition metal made out of tin and zinc,” she says. “This sort of gray metal is the best. It cools at even temperature, but a lot of gray metals were lost during WWII, because everyone had to donate their extra metals to the war effort. Bullets over candy models was sort of the notion.”
Brothers Eric and Ryan Berley are owners of Shane Confectionery and The Franklin Fountain. Their mission is to preserve Philadelphia’s history as an ice cream and candy-making center. The tradition of making clear toy candy came to this country with German immigrants as an important part of Christmas celebrations.
“At the holidays,” says Berley, “when sugar was quite rare in the 18th and 19th century, getting a piece of hard sugar in the shape of your favorite farm animal or dollhouse furniture was a really special treat for boys and girls.”
So how did a German Christmas tradition become an American patriotic symbol? It goes back before Presidents’ Day, when Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays were celebrated on their actual birthdates.
Says Berley, “We know that Washington’s Birthday was also a time for parties, selling ice cream with candied cherries and the hatchet theme. That is probably where our large Washington mold comes from.”
Shane will be selling patriotic-themed clear toy candies during the Convention, but don’t expect a clear toy Trump Tower or pant suit-attired nominee. That’s too modern! Like all things at Shane Confectionery, everything new is old again.