More plundering of the in-laws' house has turned up this gem:
Amazingly, it fell out of a book I had intended to read. No sooner did I open the hard cover than it came sliding out, into my palm. On the back is stamped: "© 1970 KELLOGG CO." and it feels like it's made of a very soft plastic. Not quite rubber and not dissimilar to today's silicon products, it's at once sturdy and flexible.
This thing was manufactured the year I was born! (And yes, my 40th birthday's coming up and I'm pretty displeased about that.) Look at the difference between the toy surprise of yesteryear and the crap we get today. Four decades ago, a kids' cereal company thought nothing of crafting a complex stencil of its own breakfast mascots for the entertainment of children! Today, you get some doodle on a piece of cardboard or an injection-molded animal on wheels that don't work. (And let's not even bring Cracker Jack's inglorious fall into this.)
This stencil, being made the year of my birth and having survived twoscore years intact--indeed, nigh-pristine--I had no other choice than to mark an impression with the stencil onto paper. I found a nice, dark gel pen and tried to put it into the first sluice of Crackle's hat... and was blocked. The slits were far too narrow for a pen. I selected a long, thin pencil with a very slender tip and discovered this, too, was still too thick for the stencil. Any child who first attempted to utilize this "toy" doubtlessly met with the same mounting frustration and irritation I began to experience.
However, I have an unreasonable and desultory collection of writing implements. It was no effort to find a mechanical pencil and extend the lead too far for writing but just perfect for this stencil. When I completed Crackle's head, however, I decided this was too demanding an effort with too little kickback to merit completing the trio. Making sure every last tiny space and dot was filled up was tedious, and compressing the stencil rigidly in place with my other hand developed a burning cramp in my forearm. In the end I had a seat on the porch--our weather is currently lovely--and discovered the necessity for more than adequate lighting for this activity: many of the slits are so small and thin they cannot be detected in light any degree of dim.
My cat hopped up into the chair beside me and kept me company while I traced out these three friends. I heard an anecdote that these elfin figures represented three Depression-era immigrant groups, revealed by their costumes: Snap was some form of Scand (my memory is leaky on this point, and what nation wears both chef's hats and neckerchiefs?), Crackle was French, and Pop was German. However, I was completely unable to find anything to corroborate this theory online, the past having been rewritten. Anyway, ten minutes later I had my tableau.
It seems that the succession of faces degenerated, purely the fault of the stencil. I had some fun coloring in Crackle's hat, but coloring in Pop's entire eye made me wonder what had gone wrong. Perhaps nothing is meant to be colored in by the pencil: you simply trace the outline and then color it in? That sounds reasonable, though those lines are so freakin' thin, there's very little coloring to be done.
And, of course, they look nothing like their contemporary interpretation: