Fox’s Glacier Mints; a mainstay of glove compartments, elderly men’s cupboards, and takeaways across the country. They’re hardly the type of sweet treat that’s likely to excite anyone with their own remaining set of teeth. However, this unassuming clear mint had one of the most bizarre advertising campaigns of the 20th century.
In 1922, the boiled mint manufacturers sought out a mascot for their Glacier mints. Ultimately, the design of a polar bear perched on top of the mint, was chosen. The designer was local Leicester artist Clarence Reginald Dalby – who was paid seven shillings and sixpence for his efforts – and would go on to even greater success, illustrating the Thomas the Tank Engine books. After the pleasant logo was completed and included on packaging, Fox’s decided that the finest accompaniment to their new twee little mascot would be a polar bear. A real one.
Fox’s confectionary commissioned a taxidermist to shoot and stuff a polar bear, bring it back to Leicester for some serious promotional campaigning. The bear, nicknamed ‘Peppy’, was wheeled out to various public events around the country, promoting the mints in a charming and not at all terrifying way. Touring Peppy was so successful that Fox’s Confectionary commissioned four more polar bears to join the first Peppy, appearing at public engagements – fairs, carnivals, fetes and football matches – across the UK, prior to the arrival of television.
In 1969, when Fox’s Confectionary was acquired by Rowntree, Peppy, in his many incarnations, was put out to pasture. In the age of television adverts and changing tastes and morals relating to trophy hunting, parading dead bears around the country to sell some mints seemed a little old hat. Sadly, the fate of all but one of the Peppy bears is unclear, despite my search efforts. However, one such Peppy is still intact.
Leicester’s Peppy was recovered in 2003, after languishing in Fox’s storage facility for two decades. A Fox’s manager told the Leicester Mercury in 2003 that ‘We found it in the back when we were clearing out and decided to donate it to a museum – the best place for it…We didn’t want it in the reception because it’s so gory. We feared it could scare the customers when they visited.’
The Peppy at Leicester Museum measures 5ft high by 7ft long and is believed to be a female bear (females are smaller than male polar bears) with far nicer provenance than its stuffed colleagues. Labelled by the museum as ‘the last Peppy’, and by other sources – possibly incorrectly – as the ‘original’ Peppy – it originally came from Dudley Zoo, having been acquired by Fox’s after it died.
Sadly, the Fox’s glacier mints Leicester factory closed in 2019, with ‘Big Bear Confectionary’ combining their UK efforts to sites in Pontefract and Blackpool. Fox’s Confectionary launched their business in Leicester in 1880 and by 1897 was producing 100 different sweets, with the infamous glacier mints coming a little later to the party in 1918. And sadly, at last, all traces of its Leicestershire roots have now gone. I visited Leicester Museum’s Peppy in 2016, when the bear – having endured six years of restoration – was back on permeant display in their taxidermy collection, which is substantial, old, and of – often hilarious – varying quality.
Thanks for reading this delightful mint/death crossover and for, in a sense, supporting my continued obsession with regional museums.
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