Mon | Feb 19, 2018

Blast from the past

Published:Sunday | January 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM

There are pieces of history that become part and parcel of life, and as much as one might not realise it, some brand names are synonymous with a country's people. Today, we highlight the Excelsior Cracker Box.

Before plastic packaging, tin boxes were the preferred containers to keep edibles such as biscuits and crackers fresh and whole.

These tins were so durable that they outlasted the product, sometimes for decades. Their labels were so well designed and attractive that the tins were used in homes and shops as convenient storage containers. At the time when water crackers were sold in these tins, travelling in Jamaica was still a somewhat difficult undertaking, and Excelsior biscuits came to be considered indispensable, providing easy and convenient nutrition.

Today, it is a Jamaican tradition to keep a pack handy as they are sworn by - locals and among the Jamaican diaspora - to prevent and relieve a variety of minor digestive ailments.

The Excelsior brand is a long-established product of the Jamaica Biscuit Company, whose name and reputation are based on its famous Excelsior Water Crackers, usually referred to as biscuits in Jamaica. The company, with its flagship brand was established in 1911.

The Jamaica Biscuit Company was originally Jamaican owned, established by Lionel DeMercado and Alfred DaCosta with John Crook of the United States. Their factory was one of the first of its kind to be established in Jamaica and was located at 2 Church Street, Kingston 11.

It operated with only one oven and was confined to just the one product, which, from its introduction to the market, was remarkably successful. The Excelsior brand was established with the crackers and was retained when the company started to diversify its product line.

Excelsior Water Crackers were packaged in 2lb tins made at the company's workshop built on to the Church Street location. In 1952, a new factory was built when they moved to their present site at 206 Spanish Town Road.

Information compiled by Sharifa Balfour, assistant curator, National Museum Jamaica Institute of Jamaica