Woodstock Candy (“Let Sweet Flashbacks Sprinkle Down”) assembles collections of vintage candy and sells them on Amazon. The “nostalgic retro mixes” tailor to the buyer’s age, as in “30th Birthday Box” or “65th Birthday Box”. For those in my decade, Woodstock tosses in classics like Chuckles, Red Hots, Sugar Daddy’s and Smarties. Also, a few Pixy Stix, a Candy Necklace, and a long strip of those colorful Candy Buttons. Finally, buried quietly in the back of the box: one small roll of Necco wafers.
Four months ago, the Wall Street Journal alerted those of us with nostalgic sweet teeth of the fate of Necco wafers. More correctly, NECCO – the New England Confectionery Company – would shutter if it didn’t secure a buyer. Apparently, no one came to the candy counter, because the factory closed its doors late last month. The consumer reaction was immediate – on the order of the Hostess Twinkies frenzy. Rolls of Necco wafers flew off the shelves. Frantic calls to candy stores demanded entire boxes be placed on hold. One Necco devotee offered his 2003 Honda Accord in exchange for the company’s remaining product. You might call it “disc(o) fever”.
The Necco wafer/disc is an underappreciated candy of years gone by, though admittedly my affection for the confection is not what it used to be. Necco’s are packaged in rolls of about thirty, in an assortment of eight flavors, including clove. Clove. Even the flavors sound dated. A Necco wafer looks and tastes like a disc of chalk (drywall?), with a hint of flavoring to make it seem like food. Eat a dozen wafers and your hands and clothes are covered with edible dust. Eat a dozen more and the flavors all start to taste the same. What used to be a satisfying crunch now feels like a threat to my dental work.
Why was I drawn to Necco wafers, when my back-in-the-day 7-Eleven store included an entire aisle of more appealing candy? Maybe I just like little discs. My father used to drive my brothers and I to some of his building sites, and I quickly discovered the concrete littered with dozens of metal coins. These were “slugs” – today called KO’s or “knockouts”; the quarter-sized remains of partially-stamped openings in electrical junction boxes. I collected hundreds of them – God knows why (but I was a kid, so I didn’t need a reason).
I also collected coins – more specifically quarters, because quarters were big money in my day, and translated into just about everything in that 7-Eleven aisle. Quarters could also be stacked into paper wrappers; perhaps my precursor to a roll of Necco wafers.
At the same time in life, I had what was probably the coolest toy around. It was called a “Rapid-Fire Tracer Gun” (if you were really cool you had the Star Trek version). The Tracer fired little round plastic discs, spinning them out of the barrel so fast they hurt when they hit skin. They even made a Tracer Rifle for more accurate shots. The Tracer had a spring-driven magazine, so you could queue up a whole pile of plastic discs. Or Necco wafers.
Necco wafers aren’t nearly as appealing as some of the stories behind them. A hundred years ago Necco’s were carried by Arctic explorers and handed out to Eskimo children. Their “suspiciously long” shelf life (Necco’s are sugar, corn syrup, and not much else) allowed them to be stored for months; then consumed by Union soldiers during America’s Civil War. And therein lies the significance of the NECCO factory closing: the wafers have been around since 1847.
If I still don’t have your attention, consider this: NECCO also manufactures Sweethearts, the heart-shaped romantic-message-stamped equivalent of the Necco wafer, distributed by the billions on Valentine’s Day. Think about that: no more candy hearts bearing “Kiss Me” or “Love You” or “Be Mine”. Instead, just inedible greeting cards and meh grocery-store chocolates. But don’t despair – I think the factory closing is just a hiatus. The Hostess Twinkie came back and so will the Necco wafer. It’s already underway, so join the movement: #SaveNecco.