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This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.

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by Stephen A. Kallis, Jr. © 2008
(From Radio Recall, April 2008)

One of the more interesting aspects of Old-Time Radio was the phenomenon of radio premiums. For little or no money, a listener, especially a younger one, could get a memento of a particular radio program, usually one that linked the object to some action in the program.

Well after the end of the OTR era, collecting radio premiums became an activity in its own right. Since many of the premiums had become scarce over time, some were counterfeited. Some collector with a fuzzy memory of an ancient premium could fall prey to anyone who could make a facsimile, reasonable or not, of the original.

Besides counterfeits, though, a few premiums were duplicated as replicas. The difference between a counterfeit and a replica is that a replica is presented as what it is, not passed off as an original.

There are three Captain Midnight replica premiums worth noting. Captain Midnight as a radio show was extremely popular, and many of its earlier episodes, when it was sponsored by Skelly Oil, are in circulation. Possibly because of that, a replica of one of the Skelly premiums was created.

Skelly Oil had an atypical method of distributing its premiums. Rather than asking listeners to send away for their premiums, they could be picked up by visiting a Skelly gas station. One of these was the 1940 Captain Midnight Flight Patrol Medal of Membership. This was a spinner coin that came with a hole in it so that it could be put on a keychain or worn as a medallion.

Original Flight Patrol medal. In the early 1970s, a radio premium fan, Peter Collinson, obtained permission from both Ovaltine, which owned the Captain Midnight trademark, and Skelly Oil, to fabricate a replica of the spinner coin. As sent out, the coin had an included paper that said in part, ":The replica medal; has been crafter to the specifications of the original with one notable exception. On each replica medal, a small 'R' has been added under the large 'S' in the Skelly symbol. This has been done to enable collectors to differentiate between the replica and the original."

Skelly Reproduction of 1940 Flight Patrol Medal. One main difference between the reproduction and the original, besides the "R," is that the original had a gold "wash"; that is, a thin plating of gold over the base metal. Oddly, in the 1970s, the Skelly medal was relatively rare. However, around 2000, some collectors discovered a number of rolls of Flight Patrol medals in former Skelly gas stations. This has changed the collectors' market significantly, and, ironically, the replicas are now as rare as the originals.

At about the same time, a replica of the Captain Midnight 1941 Mystery Dial Code-O-Graph was fabricated. The 1941 Code-O-Graph was the first of the Captain Midnight cryptological radio premiums.

Original 1941 Mystery Dial Code-O-Graph. The 1941 badge was the first of seven such premiums. It was made of stamped sheet brass with a gold "wash." On its reverse, it has two windows, one labeled "Master Code"; the other, "Super Code." These were used to set cipher keys (e.g., "Today's message is in Super Code 2.").

The replica was made of goldtone metal, and is not prone to corrosion as the original was.

Replica 1941 Code-O-Graph. The 1970s replica of this Code-O-Graph was actually superior to the original. Besides retaining its golden shone, the badge material is roughly twice as thick as the original. The only weakness is that the pin is glued on rather than soldered.

Much later, Klutz, Inc., a manufacturer of children's items decided to make their own replica. They acquired the Captain Midnight trademark, and had a copy produced.

Klutz, Inc. replica of the 1941 Code-O-Graph. The Klutz replica is incomplete. It lacks the retaining tabs on the rotor (the "dial"), and it has no cipher key settings on its back. Note retaining tabs on the original. Backs of Klutz and Original 1941 Mystery Dial Code-O-Graphs: windows missing on replica.

The Klutz replica was available from the 1990s through 2005. Currently, they're out of production. Because of lack of detail on the backs, it would appear that the replica was copied from a photograph of the original. In their catalogue, Klutz acknowledged the origin of their "Captain Midnight Decoder Badges." They were sold in pairs, as the company realized that in order to send secret messages, both sender and recipient need the badges.

Sometimes, the replicas appear in various auctions as originals. Although they were never manufactured to deceive, they still produce confusion with novice collectors and dealers.