Beautifully detailed Italian Sprite Boy 1955

In the early 1940s the ‘Sprite Boy’, an elf-like cartoon figure, made his appearance in magazine ads for Coca-Cola. He was created to help associate the term ‘Coke’ with Coca-Cola. (For some time, the company fought the idea of using the word Coke to refer to Coca-Cola.) The Sprite Boy wore two hats, a bottle cap and a soda jerk’s hat, to represent Coke in the bottle and Coke at the soda fountain.

French Canadian sprite boy 1944

There was a vogue for elfin figures in advertising. Kellog had three little elves, Snap, Crackle and Pop, to promote Rice Bubbles. Esso used a little white sprite figure whose head, in the shape of a pale yellow drop of oil, also had the same upswept hair style. The Coca Cola Sprite Boy was created by staff artist Haddon Sundblom,

Official ‘repro’ decal for soda machine

also responsible for the iconic Coca Cola Father Christmas.

Coca Cola Series 1 #S-3 Santa Foil Card Sprite Boy

Happy Christmas

From rusty signs in small town America

Causeyville, Mississipi

to Main Street

Sprite Boy as apparition

and on to the world of antiques and collectibles

Plywood die-cut sign, 1940s

the Sprite Boy has taken on a life well beyond his advertising career, a kind of Robin to the Batman of Father Christmas. The Sundblom version of Father Christmas defines our vision of him, exported to the world as the red-suited gent, courtesy of Coca Cola.

Ink blotter 1950s

In the same way, the Sprite Boy has become a minor icon in his own right, not only connected with his beverage,

US collectible phone card

though he has been enlisted for non-commercial work before now.

War Sprite Boy 1943

(from History of Coca Cola in Brasil at )

The Sprite Boy was generally disembodied, only hands and face showing

1948 Walter Lantz animation, never produced

1948 Walter Lantz animation, never produced

and seeming to take on the characteristics of the host country.

The Sprite Boy in Belgium

The Sprite Boy in Mexico

The Sprite Boy in France

Endorsed by the Italian Navy?

I recall him as a decal on the glass door of the Flash Gelateria in Hindley Street in downtown Adelaide in the 1970s. As for his product, I remember being thrilled in the 1960s to win a whole crate of Coke as a prize in an essay competition. And afterwards I could take the bottles to the local ‘deli’ (shop) to claim the deposit. The essay? It was about my visit with the school to … the Coca Cola bottling plant. We treasured such things as branded bottle openers from these visits too … we had some from small local competitor Woodroofe’s, makers of Woodie’s Lemonade, another childhood elixir.

No Sprite

In business terms, the Coke Sprite Boy advertises the reliability of his product. Just as with Macdonald’s, you know what you’re getting.

Quality Sprite Boy

He is to be trusted.

Stencilled Sprite Boy tin sign, US auction

Or is he? An internet search suggests that he is generally regarded with affectionate nostalgia, a reminder of a bygone innocence, but some find the image repulsive, in much the same way as clowns have become a ‘scary’ image.

Outliving the physical artefacts,

the image has its own appeal and goes on with its own life in our collective memories. Where have you seen the Sprite Boy?