1891 Allen’s confectionery founded

The famous neon sign was erected in 1969 and demolished in 1987.

Alfred Weaver Allen began making his own confectionery in 1891 in a shed behind his Fitzroy shop. The founder of Allen’s confectionery, he is reported by several sources as having begun his career at the MacRobertson’s sweet factory, also in Fitzroy. However, a report on the development of the confectionery industry published in The Age in 1937 suggests he gained his industry experience at a firm called Dillon, Burrows and Co. which could trace its origins back to the gold rush days:

Amongst the employees of Dillon, Burrows and Co. was Mr. A. W. Allen, who was retained on the staff when McPhillamy Bros, took over the factory. Later Mr. Allen opened a factory of his own in Brunswick-street, Fitzroy, and afterwards moved to North Melbourne. Eventually he joined Mr. J. C. McQuade, founder of the Amazon ConfectioneryCo., and a number of other prominent men in the industry, in establishing the firm of A. W. Allen Ltd., South Melbourne.

Before amalgamating with rival firms,  Allen operated as a wholesaler for imported lines as well as making his own sweets. The amalgamation took place in 1917 and the public company, A. W. Allen Ltd, was launched in 1922. By this time, it was one of the top three confectionery companies in Melbourne. In 1924, manufacturing operations for Allen’s confectionery were consolidated in a large factory on the south bank of the Yarra River, opposite Flinders Street Station, later to be crowned with the famous Allen’s neon sign.

Among Allen’s earliest products was chewing gum. An 1897 advertisement declares that A. W. Allen’s Pepsin Chewing Gum “Keeps the mouth moist“. Perhaps not a catch-cry likely to have much appeal today.

There’s humour, though. The cartoon-like illustrations show a gentleman leaping from his chair in alarm and are captioned: Mama’s Pet (entering suddenly) – “Boo hoo! Mr. Spooner’s sittin’ on the chair where I put my chewin’ gum!” “I’ll bet that’s Allen’s; it stretches so.”

In the 1920s, Allen’s confectionery expanded, acquiring a firm in South Australia and introducing new product lines. A significant advertising campaign in 1922 hailed the launch of Cocoanut Quivers,  caramels covered with desiccated coconut. The language strayed into hyperbole:

‘Each “Quiver” releases from its daintily-flaked Cocoanut Covering three minutes of absolute palate rapture as it sweetly melts into the realm  of mouth watering memories’.

Arthur Allen died in 1925. The company made some changes, no longer manufacturing chocolate, but continued to expand its range of sweets and cough drops. In 1926, products included Golden Gleams (the Popular Satinette with a Chew), Mint Twists, Fruit Twists, Cure-‘Em-Quick cough remedy (sixpence for a tin of pellets) and Irish Moss Gum  Jubes.  The following year saw Q.T. Fruit Drops introduced.

Another Allen’s confectionery favourite appeared in the 1930s. Steamrollers – “the perfect peppermint”. Early packaging showed a picture of a man being squashed by an actual steamroller – supposedly a reference to a tragic accident in 1910. A Mr Tanner, of Alphington, Melbourne, was employed to walk in front of the council’s steamroller with a warning flag, but when he stopped to look at a passing horse the machine rolled over him.

The 1940s saw cough drops such as Irish Moss and Butter Menthols join the range. Among the memorable headlines was the 1949 stunner for Irish Moss: “Do Johnnie’s Antrums cause his Tantrums?” The copywriter of the day must have been fond of rhymes, as a contemporary Butter Menthols ad asserted: “A Knight Can’t be Bold with a Head-Blocking Cold.”

By the 1950s, Allen’s confectionery was being advertised with full pages in the Australian Women’s Weekly. The new lines by this time included Fruit Tingles, Butter Menthols, Popettes (a bit like Maltesers without the malt flavour), Trumps (milk chocolate-coated peanuts), the mysterious Tooty Frooty, Butterscotch, Barley Sugar and  Tarzan Jubes. Golden Gleams seem to have disappeared.

Many of Allen’s most-loved lollies were never branded but were sold loose through milk bars – lines like cobbers, freckles, snakes, milk bottles, teeth and jelly babies. Mostly two or four for a penny, they were the subject of lengthy pondering in front of the lolly counter while you made your selection. Now you have to buy them by the bagful at the supermarket.

Allen’s range received a boost in 1965 when the company took over Griffiths Sweets, acquiring Kool Mints and Kool Fruits. Then, in the 1970s, came a new throat lozenge, Anticol. Early advertising borrowed from a 1960s spy thriller TV series called “The Man froM U.N.C.L.E. starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.”  The “Man from Anticol“, who rejoiced in the name of Napoleon Brandy, heroically fought colds armed with a product that contained “menthol, thymol, Vitamin C and a powerful cold-relieving centre”.

In 1985, A. W. Allen was acquired by UK-based Rothmans Holdings. Two years after that, it was sold to Nestlé which, through a round of takeovers and acquisitions, already owned the Sweetacres brands such as Jaffas, Fantales and Minties. In a reshuffle, those brands are now sold under the Allen’s banner, while Butter Menthols and Anticol have lost their Allen’s identity and are now simply Nestlé products.

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