Holcomb & Hoke
Popcorn, Peanut Roaster
and Other Machines

 


Original Prototype
Holcomb & Hoke
Butter-Kist
Popcorn Machine

Circa 1912

This is the original automatic popcorn machine prototype created by engineer Dan Talbert and presented to Holcomb & Hoke Manufacturing Company in 1912. The heavy cast aluminum top and all-glass upper case made the unit unsuitable for shipping, prompting J. I. Holcomb to suggest to Talbert that he rework his design. When Talbert declined, Holcomb & Hoke took on the project that would ultimately lead to the development of the model 1E and inception of the 21-year production run of Butter-Kist popcorn machines and peanut roasters.

Talbert received royalties for his invention only until 1915, at which time Holcomb & Hoke believed they had perfected a popcorn machine that was now so far removed from the original  prototype that they could patent it as their own. The company offered Talbert a dollar-an-hour job in their research and development department, but the enterprising man turned it down, opting instead to try his luck in California.

Interestingly, the J.H. Fentress Antique Popcorn Museum archives have a letter that Dan Talbert wrote to Holcomb & Hoke, in which he expresses interest in returning to Indianapolis and accepting their job offer. It's uncertain whether or not Talbert did indeed come back, as no further information on him has been found.











The Standard
Butter-Kist
Popcorn Machine

Model No. 3E

Circa 1919

The "Cadillac" of Holcomb & Hoke machines, this all-electric model features the optional four-sided rotating sign, side-mount peanut roaster, and ultra rare non-coin operated vendor. The cabinet is crafted from richly grained quarter-sawed oak with natural finish, also an option on this model. A bulb in the base keeps the nuts warm.

W. F. Hill from Toronto, Canada, was the original owner of this machine.










The Auto-Grand
Butter-Kist
Popcorn Machine

Model No. 2EF

Circa 1926

Original Cost:  $1180.00

The machine shown here measures 32"w x 26"d x 79"h (excluding shelf) and is automatic in every detail, including separation of the shot from the popped corn and buttering. While this model is all-electric, others use natural or artificial gas to heat the popping plate. The 12" x 26" shelf could be used to support a shelled peanut vendor (five-pound capacity). A side-mount peanut toaster with warming element, capable of toasting up to five pounds of peanuts an hour, was optional.

Raw corn is dispensed from the glass hopper (10-pound capacity) into the popping plate. The plate is equipped to operate on three temperatures, as governed by a variable switch that enables the operator to adjust the popping capacity from 90 down to 30 cartons an hour. Once popped, the corn is deposited into the heated glass-sided display/storage area beneath the popper.

The Auto-Grand features a sturdy cabinet made of kiln-dried birch and mahogany; however, it was also available in quarter-sawed white oak, finished in shades somewhat darker than the natural color of the wood. All metal trimmings are heavily nickel plated to withstand wear and time.  The machine is mounted on rolling rubber-tired casters for quick, easy indoor/outdoor movement   Also featured is a blinking "Eat Butter-Kist Popcorn" opalescent glass globe and rare cabinet sign that flashes between "Eat Butter-Kist Popcorn" and "Fresh and Hot. Take Some Home."

This is the first machine Jim Fentress purchased.











The Auto-Grand
Butter-Kist
Popcorn Machine

Model No. 3F

Circa 1927

Original Cost: $1250.00

This gas-fired popper with attached peanut roaster still relies on electricity for mechanical operation and lighting. The optional "Fountain of Corn" in the lower cabinet utilizes a blower to keep the corn in constant motion.

















The Standard
Butter-Kist
Popcorn Machine

Model No. 3E

Circa 1915

Shown here with the optional peanut roaster and four-sided revolving sign, this machine is all-electric. At least six different sign panels were available. Examples of these panels can be seen under "Misc. H&H Items."
















The Triumph
Butter-Kist
Popcorn Machine

Model No. 22E

Circa 1921

Original Cost:  $787.50

Featuring the same functions as the Auto-Grand but measuring only 28"w x 24"d x 76"h, the Triumph was designed for the shopkeeper with limited space. This all-electric model weighs 300 pounds and is made of rich mahogany. From the glass hopper (maximum capacity of seven pounds), raw corn is dispensed into the hot plate at a rate of up to 40 ten-cent cartons of popped corn an hour. An optional peanut roaster, capable of roasting 4-1/2 pounds of peanuts in 1-1/2 hours, is built into the bottom of the unit. The Triumph was also available with a gas popper (model no. 22 with the peanut roaster, model no. 21 without). The all-electric unit without the peanut roaster is model no. 21E.









The Profit-Maker
Butter-Kist
Popcorn Machine

Model No. 1101

Circa 1922

The all-electric, mahogany-finished unit shown here features the peanut toaster in lower cabinet. Model no. 1102 is the same as model no. 1101, except gas is used for heating the corn popping plate (the peanut toasting is electric). Model no. 1103 is all-electric, but without the toaster. Model no. 1104 is gas driven, while model no. 1105 is equipped with a generator to produce gas from gasoline. Measuring only 28"w x 24"d x 78"h, the Profit-Maker embodied Holcomb & Hoke's vision in the early 1920's: create a smaller machine with the big features that made the Auto-Grand such a big success.

A variable switch controls two types of heat in the popping plate, thereby enabling the machine operator to keep the unit going (as a means of enticing patrons into the store and to buy popcorn/ peanuts) without having to pop corn at full capacity. The glass hopper on top holds up to seven pounds of raw corn. With a capacity to fill between 14 and 40 cartons an hour, storeowners could expect to earn between $1.80 and $4 an hour from popcorn sales alone. Up to 4-1/2 pounds of peanuts can be toasted every 1-1/2 hours.







The Gold Mine
Butter-Kist
Popcorn Machine

Model No. 201

Circa 1923

Orignal Cost:  $597.50

The Gold Mine model enabled shopkeepers to obtain a Holcomb & Hoke popcorn machine for roughly half the cost of a large unit. Measuring 26"w x 22"d x 74"h, it was ideally suited for those with limited floor space.

Shown here is the all-electric model, featuring a rich mahogany finish, highly polished nickel-plated parts, and attention-getting blinking globe. Model no. 202 is the same as no. 201, except that gas is used for heating the corn-popping plate. Similarly, model no. 203 differs only in that it operates off of a generator that produces gas from gasoline.

The Gold Mine feeds, discharges, pops and butters the corn automatically. The glass hopper on top holds up to four pounds of raw corn. With a popping capacity of 30 ten-cent cartons an hour, the unit boasted an hourly earning capacity of $3.00, of which $1.95 was profit. Under the popcorn cabinet is a heated glass-faced compartment for displaying up to 15 pounds of roasted peanuts. Another selling point: the machine's light weight and large casters, which afforded easy movement from one part of a store/theater to another.





The Money-Maker
Butter-Kist
Popcorn Machine

Style No. 1E

Circa 1920

Measuring just 22 x 30 inches, the smallest of the Holcomb & Hoke machines was designed to sit on a countertop or on the optional mahogany-finished base, as shown here. All metal parts are nickel plated. This model features two small glass-front compartments that were typically used for displaying shelled and unshelled salted peanuts. On top of these compartments are tiles made of white Vitrolite, an opaque pigmented glass manufactured from about 1920 to 1950. Small, covered glass jars filled with candy, chewing gum and mints sat on top. An optional peanut warmer is located below the popcorn compartment. With a popping capacity of 20 ten-cent cartons an hour, machine owners made a profit of 65 cents on every dollar taken in. This unit does not butter the corn or separate the unpopped kernels. A smaller globe (as seen here) was also optional.

At a third the cost of large models, the compact countertop machines were available in all-electric only, using 600 watts at full capacity. The two glass compartments could hold up to four pounds of unshelled roasted peanuts; up to 10 pounds of shelled salted peanuts. The glass jars had a capacity of about two-and-a-half pounds of candy, chewing gum and/or mints.

This machine came from Dumm's General Store in Laurelville, Ohio. It was used from 1924 to 1940, then stored upstairs until its purchase by Jim Fentress in the early 1990s.












The Money-Maker
Butter-Kist
Popcorn Machine

Style No. 1E

Circa 1920

Another example of the countertop machines, this model does not feature the optional peanut warmer built into the base.

















The Banker
Butter-Kist
Popcorn Machine

(No Model No.)

Circa 1929

The Banker debuted mere months before the Crash of '29 and, ironically, the onslaught of bank failures that soon followed. Boasting an advanced design and exclusive features, the steel, glass and nickel machine promised shopkeepers greater safety, durability and profits—as much as 65 cents out of every dollar!

Compared to earlier Holcomb & Hoke models, the Banker had fewer parts and was said to operate more quietly. Sturdy rubber-tired wheels with ball bearings allowed for easier movement, both inside and outside the store. A rainbow lighting effect was implemented to emphasize "a distinctly modern creation in keeping with the age of color."

Unlike other machines, which automatically butter the corn as it pops, the Banker drops unbuttered corn into the bowl below the popping plate. Here, the corn remains hot, crisp and fresh, as it is not buttered until dispensed to the customer. In their marketing literature, Holcomb & Hoke reasoned that "stale, soggy popcorn has always meant either wasted money or dissatisfied customers." By eliminating "this profit-stealing evil," they said, shopkeepers would reap greater profits than ever before.







The Money-Maker
Butter-Kist
Popcorn Machine

Style No. 1E

Circa 1920

This countertop unit is identical to the one above, but without the optional blinking globe on top or mahogany-finished base.









The Prosperity
Butter-Kist
Popcorn Machine

(No Model No.)

Circa 1931

This a very rare Holcomb & Hoke machine, in that it is a late entry into Art Deco design. The all-electric unit features a wood-framed cabinet with metal inserts and a distinctive backlit marquee. A smaller version of the "Fountain of Corn" was incorporated to show motion and, in doing so, attract the attention of passersby.

During operation, the popped corn falls automatically into the glass-enclosed heat display compartment. The heating element underneath this compartment can also be used to keep peanuts warm. The base is perforated so that unpopped kernels fall into a container in the cabinet below. Among the machine's other key selling points: double the capacity of many other popcorn machines, an improved method of popping the corn directly in the seasoning, and the ability to convert easily from a wet to a dry popper.









The DeLuxe
Butter-Kist
Toaster

(No Model No.)

Circa 1926

This machine was Holcomb & Hoke's biggest venture into the popularity of nuts. It houses six compartments on the front side for various shelled nuts. The backside (shown here) features five metal-lined drawers in the mahogany base for nuts in the shell. A sixth "drawer" is, in actuality, a false front that is used to conceal the electric motor. 

The machine features a large, lighted peanut roaster and, just beside it, a separate glass case for displaying candy, chewing gum and mints. Brass fixtures and colorful glass plates that light from behind—both in the lower cabinet and on the four-sided sign that hangs from a rod in front—add to the attractiveness and charm of this unit.

















The Standard
Butter-Kist
Popcorn Machine

Model No. 2

Circa 1913

This machine features a gas-heated popper. It was the least expensive of the Standard models and offered no options.
















The Butter-Kist
Popcorn Machine

Model No. 3E

Circa 1924

This machine was probably one of the last "cage poppers" produced before Holcomb & Hoke switched to making chrystalite dome poppers. The nickel-plated cage measures 3-1/8" high, compared to the more commonly found 2-1/8". We can only speculate that the dimension change was an effort to increase popping capacity, something later dome units accomplished with fewer moving parts.

A different style nameplate and the addition of an Underwriter's Laboratories plate further contribute to the uniqueness of this popcorn machine with peanut roaster.












The Butter-Kist
Popcorn Machine

Model No. 3EF

Circa 1919

Featuring an all-electric popper and side-mount peanut roaster, this machine was the first to include the attention-drawing "Fountain of Corn" in the lower cabinet.

The machine was acquired from Linenger Bros., a former five-and-dime store in downtown Celina, Ohio.















The Universal
Butter-Kist
Peanut Toaster

Model No. 5

Circa 1930

Original Cost:  $287.50

This all-electric countertop model with peanut toaster and separate vendor, each with a five-pound capacity, measures 28 x 18 inches and is considered a rare piece. The mahogany-finished wood base features a backlit sign and pullout drawer on the reverse side. Shelled peanuts – kept warm and tumbling behind the nickel-trimmed, glass-front compartment – were usually sold in a small paper bag for five cents. Their sale, according to Holcomb & Hoke, would earn storeowners a profit of 65 cents out of every dollar's worth sold.

The blinking "Eat Butter-Kist Peanuts" globe was designed to draw attention to the sale of shelled salted peanuts, typically for one cent. The "Butter-Kist Salted Peanut Vendor" is made of cast aluminum and equipped with an electric heating element to keep the shelled nuts warm. Boasting "special sanitary construction," it also features a vending mechanism that can be adjusted to dispense from 30 to 60 servings per pound. The vendor could be purchased separately for $39.50 and, according to the machine's makers, would bring a profit of 150 percent. A bracket for mounting the unit on the wall sold for an additional $1.50.

This machine came from Dumm's General Store in Laurelville, Ohio. It was used from 1930 to 1940, then put away upstairs until its purchase by Jim Fentress in the early 1990s.






The Universal
Butter-Kist
Peanut Toaster

Model No. 3

Circa 1928

While similar to model no. 3 below, this peanut toaster has a divided shelled-nut container with pulldown doors which operate from the front of the unit. This enabled operators to scoop nuts more easily into a bag.









The Universal
Butter-Kist
Peanut Toaster

Model No. 3

Circa 1927

Original Cost:  $198.50

This nickel-trimmed peanut toaster is similar to the model no. 5 unit below, but without the backlit signage and rear drawer. The 28 x 18-inch base is finished in two-tone mountain ash scarlet duco; the sides and back of the machine are in duco blue. The glass jar beside the peanut toaster was used in selling shelled salted peanuts.







The Universal
Butter-Kist
Peanut Toaster

Model No. 5

Circa 1930

This countertop toaster measures 29 inches in length, 18 inches in depth and 24 inches high. While similar to model no. 5 above, it is equipped with a glass container in place of the peanut vendor. The container is divided into two compartments for selling shelled salted peanuts.







The Universal
Butter-Kist
Peanut Toaster

Model No. 3

Circa 1929

This striking all-electric model no. 3 Universal Butter-Kist Peanut Toaster varies little more than cosmetically from its predecessor above. Made of steel and mounted on a wood base, it features a brilliant mountain ash red finish, nickel trim and flashing electric sign in stylish Art Deco motif. Roasting capacity is approximately five pounds of peanuts in 60 to 90 minutes. The decorative octagonal-shaped glass jar mounted beside the roaster was used in displaying and selling shelled salted peanuts.

Measuring a mere 18 inches by 28 inches, the compact roaster was targeted to businesses with limited counter space. Ease of use and portability allowed for simple connection to any light socket, quick movement around the store or between the inside and outside of the store, and operation by one individual.




The Model X
Butter-Kist
Peanut Toaster

Circa 1928

You won't find the Model X peanut roaster featured in a Holcomb & Hoke catalog or in any other sales literature, for that matter. There is evidence, however, that supports the existence of this little known and hard-to-find machine.

Generally speaking, Model X refers to a unit that had been returned to the company—either in trade or as recourse for nonpayment—and refurbished for resale. Many Holcomb & Hoke popcorn machines and peanut roasters (and, most likely, other such larger-scale products) were sold on installment.  This allowed the purchaser to use profits in making payments over time. Often there was nothing overly wrong with these repossessed units other than cosmetic imperfections. But thorough restoration, including renickel plating, for example, could be costly. The easiest and least expensive renovation process involved going over a machine to assure it worked properly, then simply repainting it.

The story behind the Model X peanut roaster was stumbled upon quite by accident. Bill Butterfield, one of the country’s foremost collectors of jukeboxes and related ephemera, had come to the Museum in 2009 to research material on Holcomb & Hoke’s Electramuse jukeboxes. While pouring over the company's accounting ledgers, he came across a short, handwritten notation on the use of “Model X” in denoting a resold jukebox. It was then and there that the mystery surrounding the handful of late 1920s accounting entries indicating the sale of a Model X peanut roaster had been solved.

A Model X can be identified typically by the presence of nickel plating (to varying degrees, depending on the model) beneath a factory-painted surface. Their ledgers indicate Holcomb & Hoke sold refurbished peanut machines around the time of the Great Depression; however, there is no evidence to suggest they followed suit in offering a Model X popcorn machine.

The Model X Butter-Kist Peanut Toaster featured here is a Universal model no. 3 with one-cent salted peanut vendor. The particular red paint used in recovering it is consistent with that used on other peanut roaster models manufactured in the late 1920s.





The Butter-Kistwich
Toasted Sandwich
Machine

Circa 1925

Boasting handsomely crafted mahogany cabinetry, white Vitrolite panels, and a nickel-plated countertop, the Butter-Kistwich heralded Holcomb & Hoke's entry into the lucrative toasted sandwich and hot dog business. These machines were most commonly installed in drugstores and pharmacies that featured "fountains" – quick-serve lunch counters. They could also be found in bowling alleys, movie theaters and similar food service venues.

The Butter-Kistwich (also available in a 15" x 30" countertop model) features a built-in breadboard, compartments for bread/buns and condiments, and special electrical wiring for instant regulation of heat and light. This enabled one operator to serve numerous hot sandwiches and hot dogs quickly and at minimum cost.

A notable feature of the unit is its unique sign, which flashes between "Hungry?" and "Eat a Kistwich." Holcomb & Hoke prided itself on its ability to attract customers and increase sales volume through creative advertising. A Kistwich sandwich or hot dog, which commonly sold for 15 to 20 cents, yielded a profit of about 70 to 80 percent. Merchant testimonials indicate that operating a Butter-Kistwich also stimulated soft drink sales by as much as 50 percent. 

 

 


Butter-Kist Shop
Popcorn Truck

Circa 1926

After returning from a trip in 1925, J.I. Holcomb presented the idea of a mobile lunch wagon to Holcomb & Hoke Manufacturing Company’s board of directors. With the board’s approval, 10 Butter-Kist Shop vehicles were constructed on 1926 model TT Ford chassis. Each contained a Butter-Kistwich countertop grill for making hot dogs and toasted sandwiches, popcorn popper, peanut roaster, ice cream container, and drink dispenser. The popper, roaster and grill ran on gas; the motor and lights were powered by a Delco light plant generator.

When it came time to roll out their version of popcorn truck, Holcomb & Hoke did so under a lease arrangement. The innovative company believed that the $2,500 it had invested in each unit made the Butter-Kist Shop too expensive for vendors to purchase outright. Little did they know just how costly it would ultimately prove to be.

Over the next 2-1/2 years, the specialty truck became a case of ingenuity turned nightmare. Of the original 10 Butter-Kist Shop vehicles, two were destroyed by fire and one was demolished in a wreck. Even more telling is Holcomb & Hoke’s last ledger book entry pertaining to the popcorn trucks: payment to a law firm. We can only surmise that these problems coupled with the looming Depression sealed the fate of the once-promising lunch wagon, with the remaining units having been sold or dismantled.

The Butter-Kist Ship pictured was completed by Jim Fentress in 2011. Constructed from the ground up using original plans and pictures, this operational popcorn truck is on display at the J.H. Fentress Antique Popcorn Museum. We graciously extend our appreciation to C. Cretors & Company for supplying photographs from their archives.

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