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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

What a Nut

In 1916, Mr. Peanut was a skinny-legged guy with a peanut body and fancy accessories: a top hat, monocle, and cane. He became the friendly ambassador for a simple snack. More than 90 years later, Mr. Peanut is an icon for Planters Peanuts. He’s graced Planters packaging, print ads, billboards, and television commercials. He even received a millennium gift: a new car.

His diehard fans are numerous. More than 1,000 are card-carrying members of the Peanut Pals, the national collectors club, including Evansville residents Neil and Melinda Seidel, who have been to two Midwest and two national club conventions. This spring, the Seidels hosted the Midwest Peanut Pals Convention in Evansville for 41 collectors.

The Seidels’ collection is close to home. They grew up in the Planters hometown, Wilkes-Barre, Penn. “I can see Mr. Peanut in my mind on East Market Street in Wilkes-Barre handing out a little sampling of their peanuts,” Neil says, recalling the overwhelming fragrance of roasting peanuts as he passed by the Planters headquarters.

When Neil landed a banking job in Evansville, Melinda’s mother gave them a going-away gift to remember Wilkes-Barre: a 1950s Planters tin with a peanut grinder built into the lid. From there, “it kind of became an obsession,” says Neil. Inside their home are hundreds of items found at the Vanderburgh 4-H Center, collectors’ auctions, and antique shops or on eBay. They have metal and plastic figurines, jars, fishbowls, toy trucks, and nightlights — even a Mr. Peanut putter with a nubby head in the distinctive peanut shape. Among the rare pieces is a little bag the size of a playing card made of glassine paper, used circa 1910 to serve samples of peanuts before a more popular material, waxed paper, took over.

Collecting rare items only is part of the fun. The Seidels’ grandchildren have dressed in Mr. Peanut costumes for Halloween, Neil says, and the couple loves to meet “others with the same interest who are just delightful people.”

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