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Una - The Dairy Box Girl

Recently, I drove to the highest reaches of Coquitlam, towards Burke Mountain, to purchase a vintage wool blanket. I got chatting with the vendor - a sinewy man in his 60s wearing oily coveralls and before long, I told him that I collected (among many things) mid-century packaging. On hearing this, he pointed to a haggard-looking cardboard box to the side of an old car (a work-in-progress).

"Take a look in there," he said, casually, "there are some old boxes you might be interested in." Perched atop three of four antediluvian Velveeta boxes, I see something distinctly from my neck-of-the-woods: an early 1960s Rowntree's chocolate box. Of course, I had to have it (and everything else therein.)

Part of the joy of collecting vintage items is the consequential research that accompanies a find. When I got home I became immersed in the temporal ecology of the Dairy Box brand. I was able to date this to around 1960 (as the 1950s packaging, while almost identical, had a scalloped inside edge.) At the time a gamine, pixie-haired dancer called Una Stubbs was the identifiable face of the Brand. She was known as the 'Rowntree's chocolate girl,' and even referred to herself as such while visiting the factory in York where, coincidentally, her grandfather had worked many years before. Her public profile was aggrandized by the ad campaign and soon after she would land a role in Cliff Richard's first feature film, 'Summer Holiday.' In the early noughties, I saw her walking past the North Star pub on Finchley Road. I nudged my wife and said. "look, there's Aunt Sally - Una Stubbs!" My wife, a Canadian, had no clue whatsoever as to the pertinence of the old lady standing at the pedestrian crossing.

Looking back at the footage of the old black-and-white Rowntree's ads is an absolute joy. A quaint, nostalgic pastiche of espresso-bar beatnik shimmying; and amid the miscellaneous lacquered beauty is Una, in a tidy but understated gingham blouse, radiating loveliness from ear to ear. These meandering excursions back in time are as important as the object itself. In this instance, it reacquainted me with an unparalleled vision of winsome charm.

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