Kirk Robinson is a grandfather, but every morning he eats breakfast like a kid, calling dibs on the prize he finds inside each cereal box.
“Growing up, I had to fight my sister a few times for the prizes,” says Robinson, 53, of Akron, Ind. (pop. 1,167), who since 1973 has accumulated nearly 1,300 cereal premiums.
Today, he takes pride in his ever-growing collection of promotional toys, games and trinkets—all discovered while gobbling thousands of boxfuls of Cap’n Crunch, Froot Loops and Lucky Charms.
As soon as he plucks a prize, Robinson tags it with a sticky note listing its description, the date and cereal brand. He catalogs each item on a computer spreadsheet, though such meticulousness wasn’t always his style, according to his mother, who unintentionally launched the collection.
“I had three kids eating cereal, and years ago there was something in every box,” recalls Nellie Robinson, 78, of nearby Atwood. “I thought, ‘There’s another piece of junk’ and I’d throw it on Kirk’s desk.’”
One day when she insisted that the teen clean his messy room, Robinson unearthed 23 unopened cereal prizes. He tossed them into a shoebox and started his collection. Watching the prizes pile up week after week became its own reward.
“They outgrew the shoebox and I moved them into a bigger box and then a bigger box,” says Robinson, the father of two grown children. “The hardest part of collecting was telling my kids that these were Daddy’s toys.”
His 40 years of breakfast booty include baseball cards, bubble gum, bubble-blowing pipes, garden seeds, glow-in-the-dark stickers, iron-on decals, magic tricks, magnets, miniature license plates, monster-themed gloves, music records, pens, race cars, spoons, storybooks, stuffed animals and yo-yos—all sealed in their original wrappers.
Manufacturers occasionally included unwrapped toys in cereal boxes or affixed to the outside of the box, such as an Addams Family flashlight and a Batman bank, in which case Robinson saved the entire box.
Box with a Book–In 1910, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes introduced the first children’s cereal prize, Funny Jungleland Moving Picture Book.
At least once a week, his wife, Kim, 53, scouts the supermarket cereal aisle for new prizes and to replenish her husband’s favorite food.
“This is cereal row,” she says, indicating a basement shelf jammed with 33 boxes of Corn Pops, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Trix, and other assorted frosted flakes and powdered puffs. Robinson crunches into a bowlful every breakfast and most lunches.
And dessert? That’s the prize. Among Robinson’s favorites are a Pete Rose 3-D baseball card scooped from a box of Raisin Bran in 1974 and a cellophane-wrapped $1 bill found inside Cheerios in 1986. He especially treasures the 1940s metal cereal premiums that belonged to his late father, including a Lone Ranger movie-projector ring with a tiny filmstrip from Cheerios and a cartoon Mr. Bibbs pin from Kellogg’s Pep cereal.
The first prize Robinson remembers saving is a plastic orange basketball with a mini hoop. While most kids ripped into the package, hooked the basket over the lip of the Alpha-Bits box as intended and shot hoops while slurping their cereal, he kept his prize intact.
“It actually took some discipline not to open the prizes,” he recalls.
Though Robinson preserves the treasures in airtight containers, he peels back the lids now and then to admire his collection.
“They bring back memories. So many of my favorite brands are gone,” he says as he sifts through packages of plastic trinkets from Fruit Brute, Body Buddies and Moonstones cereals.
Robinson doesn’t have definite plans for his collection, which he might bequeath to his grandchildren or sell as a lot. But he’s certain that his treasured trinkets will increase in value.
“I tell my wife that there will be a day when manufacturers quit putting premiums in the box,” he says. “And I’ll be the guy holding the prize.”