What is clear toy candy? It's a hard candy that often shaped like everyday items, like boots, bunnies, dogs, horses and or even dishes. They were traditionally given to children for Christmas so it could be a toy to play with and a sweet treat to eat. Originally they were not on sticks and only came in red, green and yellow (no added color). Also no flavor was added to them.
When did clear toy candy start? That's a good question and I have been trying to find out for awhile. I have found early references to "barley sugar" which is a term I have found most people today use interchangeably with clear toy candy. Most of the recipes for barley sugar are almost the same as the recipes, or receipts for clear toy candy.
Some early references state that barley sugar was used for medicinal purposes, like a cough drop. In Domestic medicine, or, A treatise on the prevention and cure of diseases by William Buchan (1790) that "When a cough is occasioned by acrid humours tickling the throat and fauces, the patient should keep some soft pectoral lozenges almost constantly in his mouth; as the Pontefract liquorice cakes, barley-sugar, the common balsamic lozenges, spanish juice, &c. These blunt the acrimony of the humours, and by taking off their stimulating quality, help to appease the cough."
Another early reference from The cooks and confectioners dictionary (1723) states "The Carmel boiling of Sugar is proper for Barley Sugar, and for a certain small Sugar Work Called by that name, which is described in its proper place."
Most of the recipes for barley sugar call for the candy to be made into strips, not molded into shapes. Clear toy candy or "candy toys" are the shaped candies. The molds for these candies were made by several companies including Thos Mills & Bro and V Clad & Son.
The name for the candy has evolved with the candy. It started as barley sugar but in the mid to late 1800's they were called "candy toys". In the early 1900's people started calling it "clear toy candy". The name went from barley sugar to candy toys when the metal candy molds were available to confectioners.
One of the earliest recipe I could find in print for clear toy candy was in "The Chicago Herald Cooking School: A Professional Cook's Book for Household Use, Consisting of a Series of Menus for Every Day Meals and for Private Entertainments, with Minute Instructions for Making Every Article Named" Originally Published in the Chicago Daily Herald By Jessup Whitehead. 1883. The candy here is called "222. Candy for Christmas Toy's, Ect." The same recipe was republished in "The American Pastry Cook" By Jessup Whitehead, Katherine Golden Bitting Collection on Gastronomy, 1894.
For those that could not afford the expensive molds there was an alternative, make your own molds out of plaster of paris. The directions can be found in "The American Pastry Cook" 1894 on page 52. how to make "Plaster of Pairs" Molds for candy.
It is very hard to get information on the molds. There is no one left alive that made them and seems that no one wrote down how they made them or the exact formula for the metal mixture. What we do know is that Thomas Mills & Bro patented molds in 1866. They were designed by Leonhard Schulze, who was a assignor to the company. There were 8 molds patents given on September 25, 1866. There was a lion, woman, fireman, boat, train, dog, elephant, and one other I have not been able to track down yet. I do not believe these were the first clear toy molds, but the first I have found documentation of. Clear toy candy was being sold before 1866 by candy makes so earlier molds would have existed. I have a receipt from Thos. & WM. C. Fry of Philadelphia dated Dec 23, 1850 for "10 Candy Toys at 18 cents each". In today's world with inflation that would be would $ 5.60. This shows that 16 years before the Mills patents, that molds were used to make clear toy candy.
What makes it a clear toy candy mold and not other kinds of candy molds? They are two sided, they stand upside down while the sugar is poured in the bottom, they are very heavy, and most of the time you can not tell from the outside what the shape is.
The molds have been made from various metals throughout the years. The older molds are either cast iron or composite metal. In the 1900’s they started making molds out of aluminum. There were some new designed molds made by the John Wright company in the 1980’s from cast iron but they were coated with a Teflon like coating. In the later part of the 1900’s other made molds that were reproduced from the earlier mills molds. These were made of aluminum and can name some nice candy but they do not have the detail that the original Mills molds had.