Mike Burns, Co-Founder of CanMuseum.com, take a look at a beverage can holiday icon
The holidays are here and I can’t let them pass by without showing you a classic set of Sundblom Santa cans from Coca-Cola. Cola-Cola has featured the Sundblom Santa on their packaging since 1931. Haddon H. Sundblom is perhaps best known for his work for The Coca-Cola Company with his rendition of St. Nick based on the popular poem, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” (a.k.a. “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, Moore, 1822). Sundblom also created the “Sprite Boy” and the Quaker Oats man. Sundblom’s association with his Santa Claus artwork is so strong that he is often thought of as the first person to depict him as the modern image of “jolly old St. Nick”. This, of course, is not true as St. Nicholas can be traced back to the 4th century and the jolly fat man with a white beard had his origins in the late 18th century and more so by the mid-19th century.
The Coca-Cola Company in the United States chose four of Sundblom’s pieces to print on their Coca-Cola Classic cans in 1996. Each 12 oz (355 mL) can has “1996 EDITION” in gold at the bottom left of the artwork and they all stay true to their bold red color branding, unlike recent can designs. Likewise, all four cans have a little history followed by the title of Sundblom’s work on one side of the can. The historical text under the Always Coca-Cola logo reads: “The Coca-Cola ‘Sundblom’ Santa: From 1931 through 1966, The Coca-Cola Company commissioned artist Haddon H. Sundblom to create Santa Claus illustrations for its Christmas advertising. Since then, people everywhere have identified this Santa Claus with The Coca-Cola Company.”
The first can is Sundblom’s “The Pause That Refreshes” from 1958. Here we see Santa kicking back in a green chair as jolly as can be with a bottle of Coca-Cola. He is missing a boot and is in the process of sliding off his remaining black boot with the red sock covering his left foot. Below the chair is a fawn, peacefully sleeping. The “Pause” could mean Santa is taking a break from his Christmas deliveries. Let’s go with that. The illustration text on this can reads, “‘The Pause That Refreshes,’ was rendered in 1958. This holiday season, the only pause that refreshes is ice-cold Cola-Cola.”
Sundblom’s “Refreshing Surprise” from 1959 is on the second can. In this illustration, a small boy catches Santa sneaking into his family’s refrigerator. He is smiling at a surprised Santa who is starting to use a bottle opener to open a bottle of Coca-Cola. The illustration text reads, “This creation, entitled ‘Refreshing Surprise,’ was rendered in 1959. Surprise your guests with real holiday refreshment. Serve them ice-cold Coca-Cola.”
The third can features Sundblom’s “When Friends Drop In” from 1961. Here a small dog has spotted Santa. Santa is in front of a decorated Christmas tree holding a bottle of Coca-Cola in one hand and holding up a finger from his other hand to his lips to tell the dog to stay quiet. The illustration text reads, “This creation, entitled ‘When Friends Drop In,’ was rendered in 1961. Make sure you always have plenty of ice-cold Cola-Cola when your friends drop by in this holiday season.”
Sundblom’s “Season’s Greetings” from 1962 is on the fourth and final can of this set. In this illustration we see a happy Santa enjoying a bottle of Coca-Cola while playing with a toy train set. The illustration text says, “This creation, entitled, ‘Season’s Greetings,’ was rendered in 1962. This holiday season greet your guest with ice-cold Coca-Cola. THE ONLY REAL HOLIDAY REFRESHMENT”. To me it looks like they forgot to add an “s” to the word “guest”… unless they think you are only going to have one guest. If that’s the case, it would mean that you wouldn’t need to buy as much ice-cold, refreshing, Cola-Cola. Nah… I really think they forgot the “s”.
The Sundblom Santa and Coca-Cola go hand in hand with the holiday season. It was refreshing to dig these 15 year old cans out of my collection to share with you this week. They are all great designs and when you look at them, you can’t help but feel the warmth and happiness of Christmas… and perhaps a craving for an ice-cold Coca-Cola. Happy Holidays!