Saturday, June 24, 2017

Captain Midnight Decoder Badges

Today's "Anything Goes Saturday" is kind of different!

Years ago, I lived near a number of antiques stores, and would mosey on over to see if anything good was there. On one excursion, a Little Orphan Annie decoder badge caught my eye, and I bought it for a surprisingly low price. After that, I looked for other old radio premiums; I am pretty sure that I found all of these at various shops, and didn't buy any of them on eBay (or other auction sites) which is why they are sometimes not quite as "minty" as I would probably want these days. Still, I love the idea of some kid saving up his cereal box tops (or similar coupons), sending in 5 cents, and happily receiving his or her very own secret decoder badge. I don't have them all, but love the ones I do have. I'll be sharing photos of 6 different decoders from the "Captain Midnight" show.

This first one is a 1942-1944 "Photomatic Code-O-Graph". In 1940, Ovaltine took over sponsorship of the Captain Midnight radio program, and the Captain became the head of a secret government paramilitary group called the Secret Squadron. With the advent of WWII, he fought Nazis, especially spies and saboteurs intent on destroying the old U.S. of A. Kids were encouraged to replace the Captain's photo with their own, instantly becoming a member of this exclusive squadron! Because this one was available for years, it is not hard to find.

1945 saw the introduction of the "Magni-Matic Code-O-Graph". With brass being such a critical wartime resource, Ovaltine instead used stamped sheet steel that was then painted gold. There is a plastic insert with one half of the cipher, and the clear knob also acted as a magnifying lens, mostly used for frying ants. I have read that this was the only Captain Midnight decoder in which demand exceeded supply.

I found this one (and the next one) in a junk shop for a pittance (along with some 1939 World's Fair pins) - that was a good day!

Next is this "Mirro-Flash Code-O-Graph" from 1946. This is the last Captain Midnight decoder released as a badge. With the end of the war, they used stamped brass again. The knob now has a metal insert that could be used for heliography - flashing a reflected signal to passing airplanes. Why just the other day, I got a passing Boeing 787 to land because I had skinned my knee. Thanks, fellows!

This next example is from 1947 - the "Whistle Code-O-Graph". It's a beautiful blue plastic whistle that I  am sure to have with me at all times, often testing it loudly at Starbucks or Target to make sure that it  still works.

And yes, it is still a decoder. We'd whipped the Nazis, but now the commies were becoming a real pain in the neck. To this day I'll see some guy with a bad haircut and ugly brown leather shoes buying a loaf of bread - he must be a commie!! It's the only rational explanation. I always alert the authorities. But I'm no hero - just a regular Joe doing his bit.

How do you like this 1948 "Mirro-Magic Code-O-Graph"? It is made of brass, aluminum, plastic, and steel. The cipher numbers and letter can be seen through those tiny windows. Mere friction is used to keep the two separate parts of the cipher properly aligned, and slippage turned out to be a vexing problem, resulting in many communist plots succeeding.

Here's the back (made of plastic), with yet another handy mirror. Once again you can flash out an S.O.S., or just make sure that your hair already has plenty of Wildroot Cream Oil in order to keep it neat and tidy.

Finally we have this unusual 1949 "Key-O-Matic Code-O-Graph", which was improved from the 1948 version by actually using gears for the cipher elements. The tiny key is required to reset the thing, and not surprisingly, it was often lost. Clever bending of a paper clip would suffice, but these days the keys can sometimes fetch higher prices than the decoder itself.

I hope that you have enjoyed today's "Anything Goes" Captain Midnight decoder badges!


Nanook said...


What a wonderful collection of decoder badges. I'm uncertain which I like better - the badges, themselves, or the wonderful-overly-hyphenated-Names-O-Graph-!

As as for hair cream products, I've always preferred Brylcreem ("for the clean, smart look") as the best tonic for fighting Commies-! But xtra points for referencing Wildroot Cream-Oil-!

Thanks, Major, for sharing this great collection.

Scott Lane said...

Quite a collection. I don't really understand who Captain Midnight was or why boys needed to decode him. Then again I was, myself, a proud owner of a Jonny Quest Something Ring. Was it a decoder ring? I can't recall. I do remember it had a shiny spot in the middle of it so I could signal Race Bannon if I got in trouble. Of course the likelihood of Race flying over the pine barrens of South Jersey just when I fell off my tricycle was probably small but still...

K. Martinez said...

While, familiar with the Captain Midnight series, I've never watched it. This is a really cool collection which also appears to be in great condition. I especially like the all-blue "Whistle Code-O-Graph". Thanks for sharing more of your collection with us, Major.

As a kid I used to love saving my cereal box tops and quarters to send in for some special item being offered. It would always take 4-6 weeks for delivery, but the anticipation made the item seem all the more special. Nowadays it's all instant gratification with places like eBay at your fingertips.

Irene said...

The first thing I thought of when I saw the picture of Captain Midnight in the first one was the kid standing behind Ralphie waiting in line to see Santa!

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, yes, the names are pretty great - cool enough to excite any kid! Brylcreem - well OK… at least it’s not “Dipiddy Doo”!

Scott Lane, well gosh, I explained who Captain Midnight is (was?)! How was he supposed to communicate with his thousands of fans without using cyptography?? That Jonny Quest ring sounds cool, I’ve never seen one of those.

K. Martinez, I didn’t know there was a Captain Midnight TV show - I thought he was just on the radio. But it wouldn’t surprise me there was an early show, maybe one that still exists on kinescopes. For a short while I would send away for cereal premiums, and still have a pair of Ren and Stimpy giant boxer shorts!

Irene, the one Ralphie had was for Little Orphan Annie from 1940, and you’ll be seeing one of those on the blog someday. Somebody made repros after the movie became a hit, but who wants a repro?

Patrick Devlin said...

And "Be sure to Drink You Ovaltine!" Some secret message....

K. Martinez said...

Major, There was a 1942 Columbia Pictures movie serial based on the "Captain Midnight" radio show in theaters which later ran on televison in the mid 1950's. There was also a new show produced for TV based on Captain Midnight around the same time (mid-50's) where he was portrayed as Korean War veteran. While Captain Midnight's origins are in radio, he's appeared in his own movie serial, tv show as well as his own comic books.

Chuck said...

Great post today, major.

There was a Francis B. Midnight who graduated from the USAF Academy in 1964. He was shot down and reported missing over Vietnam in 1976, promoted to captain while he was still listed as "missing in action," and finally listed as "killed in action" after he was not repatriated with returning POWs in 1973. I remember seeing his name on the Chapel wall at the Academy and my parents remarking about the real-life Captain Midnight.

Major Pepperidge said...

Patrick Devlin… “A crummy commercial!”.

K. Martinez, I wonder if we’ll ever see an updated “Captain Midnight”?

Chuck, wow, what an interesting story! At first I thought you were pulling my leg. Of course it is very sad to think that he was shot down - and maybe even worse that there is no real knowledge of what happened to him after that.

K. Martinez said...

"updated “Captain Midnight”?" Major, you read my mind.

Chuck said...

That's the problem with making up silly stories all of the time - nobody believes you when you're telling the truth. My wife actually thought I was joking when I proposed. True story.

Irene said...

Yes, I know Ralphie ordered the Little Orphan Annie Ring. What I was referring to was the strange kid in line behind Ralphie wearing a leather helmet. Here is a link to his photo:

Anonymous said...

Wow, I had always thought that a Captain Midnight Decoder Ring was a joke, like snipe hunting or left-handed monkey wrenches.

Always something to learn at GDB.

(I desperately wanted one of those Johnny Quest rings. I guess I should feel better now hearing that they didn't really work, but somehow that just makes the disappointment worse.)


Anonymous said...

@Nanook: I'm a Dapper Dan man, myself.


keeline said...

I have the 1945 decoder that came down from the family. My mom was born in 1946 so it could have been from her older sister.