Aside from cold cans of Coors and scores of brainy School of Mines grads, there is perhaps no Golden export more famous — or beloved — than the Jolly Rancher.
Local couple Dorothy and Bill Harmsen opened their first Jolly Rancher Ice Cream store on Washington Avenue in 1949 and began selling early versions of their now-iconic confection out of it soon after.
The store closed in 1951, but the brand’s local ties continued as production of the candies was moved to a factory in Wheat Ridge where it continued until new owner The Hershey Company moved production to Mexico in 2002.
But even as Jolly Rancher is regarded as a sweet piece of Golden’s past, the company’s history has been neither widely known nor easy to learn much about. Until now.
Last month, Golden History Museum & Park curator Mark Dodge announced that John Harmsen, Dorothy and Bill’s grandson, has decided to donate a collection of artifacts from his family’s business to the museum. Dodge has written that the collection “will represent the finest collection of Jolly Rancher history anywhere.”
The donation, which will be known as the Harmsen Family Collection, includes everything from early product packaging to signs to molds that were used to create the company’s lesser-known chocolates, which were sold only in Colorado and neighboring states.
Dodge said the acquisition marks something of a change in philosophy for the museum, which had long eschewed dealing with anything Jolly Rancher other than a small display about the company’s early history in Golden.
But while the museum had never shown much interest in expanding the knowledge of Jolly Rancher, its visitors had. The museum would routinely get inquiries from the public relating to Jolly Rancher and old museum blog posts touching on the company’s Golden roots continue to be among its most most well-read.
“There appears to be nobody else in the country that appears to have much information about the Jolly Rancher company,” said Dodge. “So, when I knew we had the opportunity to get a lot of this I just thought the time was right.”
For Dodge and other historians, one of the most exciting aspects of the deal with John Harmsen is the ability for museum staff to create digital facsimiles of the company’s Sugar and Spice newsletters (Harmsen wanted to keep the originals), which were edited by Dorothy.
“Those are essentially a very thorough history of the entire business,” said Dodge. “They’re in full color and quite beautiful because they have a lot of original artwork and those will be available for anybody out there to look at.”
Other likely highlights include a pair of cowboy chaps that have been embossed with a Jolly Rancher logo that were used by a rodeo team the company sponsored and the molds, which were used to make specialty chocolates for Christmas and other holidays.
“It’s amazing to see these three dozen forms,” he said. “They’re from Germany and they’re just like little works of art.”
Art enthusiasts will also get a kick out of the many artistic elements of the collection, which includes cartoonish designs for ads and packaging boxes created by former Disney animator Bob Cormack and paintings of concepts for new Ranch Maid Ice Cream stores where the Harmsens sold Jolly Ranchers.
Once the donation was agreed to, Dodge and the museum’s staff got started with the biggest challenge of accepting a donation of this magnitude: figuring out what to do with it all.
Dodge said the main place to view and learn about the Jolly Rancher items will be the digital collection on the museum’s website. Staff have already added about 50 items to that collection, which allows anyone to view images of items as well as information about them, and are planning to add about 200 more.
However, he also said that the museum will incorporate the artifacts in future displays as they fit. Already, two candy shipping boxes adorned with colorful graphics from the 1960s have been added to the small permanent Jolly Rancher exhibit at the museum.
Dodge said the museum is excited to have the collection not only because of what it will bring to the museum but because of what it says about the museum’s ability to handle such a collection.
“I think it really speaks to a growing recognition of the work that we are doing and the trust we have developed for them to share this stuff with us and look to use to steward it for future generations,” he said. “I’m proud to be able to do that and don’t think there’s really any better place for this collection.”
[Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that John Harmsen is Bob and Dorothy’s grandson, not son.]