Decades before it cluttered up your email inbox, Spam was ubiquitous on breakfast, lunch, and dinner plates across the United States and worldwide. Over the years, Hormel’s iconic ready-to-eat canned meat product has spawned a collecting category: Spamorabilia. From vintage advertisements to zany branded merchandise, Spam collectibles are hot, hot, hot!
From the start, Hormel embraced humor in marketing their “miracle meat of many uses.” Introduced to the world on July 5, 1937, the headline of the very first print advertisement for the new convenience story proclaimed, “Everybody’s saying ‘SPAM—a magic new word for something good to eat—the last word in delicious meats… it’s SPAM… SPAMwiches…baked SPAM…SPAM & Eggs…these are a few reasons why everyone is saying ‘SPAM’….” Cue Graham Chapman in drag as the wife in Monty Python’s legendary 1970 Spam sketch: “Have you got anything without so much Spam in it?”
By 1940, Spam was the sponsor of George Burns and Gracie Allen’s radio show, with its off-the-chain comedic antics. The couple was featured in Hormel’s print ads as well: “‘Gracie, what would you say if all your relatives came over for dinner?’ SPAM”. Campy and stylized, vintage Spam ads can be found on eBay as collectible ephemera, converted into fridge magnets, or compiled into a 2001 calendar featuring Spam historical facts.
During World War II and its aftermath, SPAM became the canned meat served ’round the world. Hundreds of millions of pounds were shipped overseas to feed American and allied troops and protein-starved civilians in Japan, Korea, Hawaii, and The Philippines. Spam has been incorporated into the native cuisine in those countries and Hawaii ever since. Proving itself a miracle meat of many uses, Spam also provided grease for guns and cans for scrap metal.
Nowadays, those vintage Spam cans are worth good money—if you can find them. Not to worry, though, because Hormel has created a steady stream of collectible cans celebrating such occasions as Hormel’s 100th anniversary, the 70th anniversary of Spam, and the Broadway debut of Monty Python’s Spamalot.
You can also collect the cans for all 15 flavors of Spam as well as special-issue Korean, Japanese, and Collector’s Edition Hawaiian cans, plus that seasonal delight, Pumpkin Spice Spam. And the hits keep coming: Earlier this year, Hormel teased the announcement of “a new limited-time SPAM variety that is sure to excite around the holiday season.”
You may even stumble across a Korean Spam gift pack if you’re lucky. It’s a bestselling gift for that country’s annual Lunar New Year celebration.
However, Spam cans are good for more than simply containing Spam. The iconic blue tins can double as safes, clocks, holders for fried-egg candles, banks, Christmas ornaments, and more. They can hold games—Spam Dice, Crazy Eights, Yahtzee, decks of cards—or mints. Stacked, they comprise the base of a dandy table lamp. Miniature versions serve as earrings and a miniature keychain flashlight. There’s a lookalike vintage lighter as well.
In the early ’80s, Hormel went all-in on their number one product’s inherent kitsch. Proving that they had collectors’ number, they created 1-800-LUV-SPAM: a full-color catalog offering a dazzling and irresistible array of Spamorabilia, from air fresheners, apparel, and bobbleheads to fishing, golf, and kitchen gear to snow globes, temporary tattoos, toys, and umbrellas. One woman reportedly ordered glow-in-the-dark SPAM boxer shorts for her entire wedding party.
But wait, there’s more!
Museum-quality Spamorabilia is a thing, too. At Hormel Corporation back in the 1960s, a visionary secretary named Pauline began quietly accumulating Spam ephemera, swag, and other branded or brand-related items, stashing them in her unused bottom desk drawer. By the mid-1980s, her collection of archived items had grown to fill a dedicated gallery space at Hormel headquarters in Spamtown, USA (a.k.a. Austin, MN).
In 1991, the company opened the boringly named 800-square-foot Hormel Foods First Century Museum in a local mall in celebration of the company’s 100th anniversary. It was soon re-branded as the much more enticing Spam Museum.
A considerably larger Spam museum opened in a renovated K-Mart building in downtown Austin in 2001. Its 16,500 square feet included a theater, displays of historical Spamorabilia, interactive games and activities, and a wall of more than 3300 Spam cans. It was immortalized by Department 56 in a light-up version of itself.
In 2016, Hormel put a whole new spin on cubism with the grand opening of their purpose-built Spam Museum, shaped like—what else?—cubes of Spam. As Wikipedia puts it,” The museum tells the history of the Hormel company, the origin of Spam, and its place in world culture.” There’s even a mock assembly line allowing visitors to vie to fill cans with Spam. And, of course, there’s a gift shop.
However, you don’t have to visit that gift shop or even the SPAMSHOP to acquire Spamorabilia. Hot Wheels versions of the NASCAR racecars sponsored by Spam Racing during the mid-1990s were shrink-wrapped to the top of Spam cans, while Spam and Spam swag are distributed nationwide by the legendary Spammobile.
Fans can collect a scaled-down Spammobile. Several models of Spam trucks are also available, one of them a Walmart exclusive. In addition, Lionel teamed up with Hormel to issue a limited edition wood-sheathed SPAM boxcar for Spam’s 75th anniversary.
There’s plenty of festival-related Spamorabilia to go around, too. Spam Jams are held annually in Austin, MN, and Waikiki, Hawaii., attracting crowds of up to 20,000 people. Shady Cove, OR, hosts an annual Spam Parade & Festival (for which the annual budget is $1,500).
The granddaddy of Spam events was Spamarama, which took place in Austin, TX, from 1978-2007. It featured a Spam cookoff, Spamolympics, and a Spam-sculpting contest. Spam-carving contests also take place annually in various parts of the country.
T-shirts and posters from all of these events can often be found on eBay, sometimes in the form of original art. Other artists apply their talents to portraits of Spam cans or even apply paint to the Spam can itself. That’s what artist Pery did as part of the “Ordinarily Famous” project.
If you’re really lucky, you may even stumble across a cassette tape or CD featuring The Spamettes, an acapella quartet from Austin, MN, who sing Spam-centric parodies of popular songs, e.g., “Don’t Go Eatin’ a Can of Spam (With Anyone Else But Me.” Decked out in navy blue Spam aprons, hairnets, and bright yellow rubber gloves, they entertain at Spam Jam and other events.
Spam consumption is on the upswing again—the company has reported record-breaking sales for the past seven years, with 12.8 cans currently consumed per second. Pop culture collectibles manufacturer Funko Pop!, Disney’s Wishables, and Sanrio’s Hello Kitty have joined the Spam fun. At Hello Kitty’s Supercute Friendship Festival, you could purchase a Hello Kitty Spam musubi mold and a Hello Kitty Spam apron bearing the words “SPAM CAN! NEVER HAVE TOO MANY FRIENDS!”
Of course, no collection of Spamorabilia would be complete without the Spam canon (see what I did there?), which in no particular order includes:
Spam: A Biography, by Carolyn Wyman (Harvest Books, 1999)
The Book of Spam by Dan Armstrong and Dustin Black (Atria Books, 2007)
Spam-Ku: Tranquil Reflections on Luncheon Loaf by John Cho (Harper Perennial, 1998
Great Classic Spam Recipes of the World by Dorothy Horn (Green Pagoda Press, Ltd.)
Hawaii Cooks with Spam by Muriel Miura (Mutual Publishing LLC, 2008)
Hawaii Cooks with Spam – Miniature Edition by Muriel Miura (Mutual Publishing LLC, 2018)
Hawaii’s Spam Cookbook by Ann Kondo Corum (BESS Press Inc., 1987)
Hawaii’s Second Spam Cookbook by Ann Kondo Corum (BESS Press Inc., 2001)
Spam: The Cookbook by Linda Eggers (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2001)
Spam: The Cookbook by Marguerite Patten (Hamlyn, 2018)
The Great Taste of Spam: State Fair Winning Recipes (Hormel, 1994)
The Latest Spam Cookbook by Allen Goodhart (independently published, 2021)
The Ultimate Spam Cookbook – Licensed by Hormel (Fox Chapel Publishing, 2020)
The Ultimate Spam Cookbook by Harley Banks (Kindle Edition, 2022)
The Ultimate Spam Cookbook by Scott Stojan (independently published, 2022)
What makes Spamorabilia so irresistible? “People’s connection to the SPAM® Brand is deeply rooted in longevity, versatility, convenience, and cultural heritage,” said Steven Venenga, vice president of marketing for the SPAM® Brand, in a Hormel press release issued to mark Spam’s 85th birthday last month. “While we celebrate all that the SPAM® Brand has accomplished, the most important achievement is the inspiration and joy this little blue can has given its fans in the kitchen and beyond.”
Betsie “eBetsy” Bolger is a freelance writer/editor, former eBay Education Specialist, and Top Rated Seller on eBay. She sells new, estate, vintage, and artisan jewelry for a client’s account as well as Converse sneakers, vintage jigsaw puzzles, limited-edition Teddy the Dog merchandise, and select consignment items in partnership with her husband. Betsie is also a longtime WorthPoint fan who previously wrote WorthPoint’s commercial spots for eBay Radio. Find her via ebetsy.com, acquisatory.com, and TexAnnasAllStore.com.
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