Last updated: June 04. 2014 11:25PM - 2602 Views
By James O’Malley jomalley@civitasmedia.com

Mr. Peanut sign on the Planters Peanuts building on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre.
Mr. Peanut sign on the Planters Peanuts building on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre.
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Smithsonian images

Search “Mr. Peanut” at www.blog.americanhistory.si.edu/osaycanyousee/ to see Antonio Gentile’s original Mr. Peanut sketches.

A staple of downtown Wilkes-Barre decades ago, Mr. Peanut often could be found walking Public Square, drawing potential customers to the Planters store next to the Anthracite Newsstand.

He’s since moved on, but most recently, he edged his way into the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History when Robert Slade, nephew of Mr. Peanut creator Antonio Gentile, donated the original sketches.

Gentile, of Suffolk, Virginia, then 14, entered a Planters-sponsored trademark contest in 1916, submitting a drawing of a peanut-man that served as the inspiration for the icon.

A bit later, Jolyne Dalzell, great-niece of Planters founder Amedeo Obici, said an artist added the top-hat and monocle. Or, as her grandma used to say, “ ‘He dressed him up.’ ”

Dalzell, of Haddonfield, New Jersey, said Slade feared the paper on which his uncle sketched the peanut-man about 98 years ago might deteriorate beyond recognition, so he began seeking an organization to preserve them.

“And the Smithsonian seemed to be the safest place,” she said.

Kathleen Franz, a professor at American University and part of a team of curators at the Smithsonian Institute said Wednesday they have a “roomful of conservators” with “very high-tech” equipment and techniques to see to the future well-being of the drawings.

When another curator approached Franz about the Mr. Peanut drawings, she said she knew accepting them would be a no-brainer.

“I said, ‘You should really take them,’ ” she said.

Slade’s family kept the sketches for decades following Gentile’s death, Franz said, and the pictures, at some point were laminated. She said no method of restoring paper exists, so any damage done can’t be repaired.

Fortunately, Franz said, the drawings and have held up well.

Throughout his success, Dalzell said her uncle maintained a relationship with Gentile.

Sometimes, she said, “It pays to enter a contest.”

At the time, it paid $5.

According to Times Leader archives, Obici, an Italian immigrant, founded Planters Nut and Chocolate Co. with his future brother-in-law Mario Peruzzi in Wilkes-Barre in 1906.

The pair paid $25 rent for two floors of a downtown factory, and the company took over a four story building a year later. Within four years, Planters was turning a profit, and soon expanded, keeping its corporate offices in Wilkes-Barre, and opening a processing plant in Suffolk, Virginia, Gentile’s hometown.

In 1918, Mr. Peanut appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, and Planters became the first advertised salted nut.

Dalzell said Gentile did not pursue a career in art or advertising, and instead went on to medical school, but passed away in 1939.

Obici died in 1947, and in the late 1950s, Planters began closing its retail stores.

An attempt to revive Mr. Peanut’s presence on Public Square in 1983 met failure.

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