Fig. 1. Steel Photogravure of Charles Frederick Gunther c. 1899-1901. Published in John A. Campbell, A Biographical History, with Portraits, of Prominent Men of the Great West. (Chicago : Western Biographical & Engraving Co., 1902) : 154-158

Copyright © 2011-2018 John N. Lupia III

Carl Friedrich "Charles Frederick" Günther (1837–1920), "The Candy Man," "Cracker-Jack King" and "The P. T. Barnum of Chicago" was a German-American politician, caramel confectioner, chocolatier, numismatist, and art, antiquities and curiosities collector, who, purchased many of the coins and artifacts now in the Chicago History Museum.

He was born on March 6, 1837, in Wildberg, in the Schwarzwald or "Black Forest" district of Baden-Württemberg, Germany, son of Johann Martin Günther, a candle and soap maker, and his wife Marie. In 1842, when he was five years old his family moved to America and at first settled in Columbia, Lancaster County, and in 1848 moved on at Somerset County, Pennsylvania. His parents raised him speaking both English and their native German and French. Later on Gunther also learned Spanish. While at Pennsylvania he attended private elementary schools. As a young boy of ten he worked as a letter-carrier on horseback for the United States Post Office for twenty-five cents per diem. When he became a teenager, in 1850, his family removed to the Illinois Valley in what is today known as Peru, La Salle County, Illinois. Peru became became incorporated as a city the following year on March 31, 1851. There he graduated the local school and began working at a general store as a clerk being paid $2.50 plus room and board per month. After a few months he switched jobs working for a local druggist. In his late teens, about 1853, he switched jobs again and began working for the Peru Post Office. By about 1854, he became the manager. In 1855, he entered the employ of Alexander Cruikshank, who represented at Peru the banking firm of George Smith & Company. In 1859, he was promoted to cashier. By 1860, he became involved through his family and business connections with the ice industry since Peru at that time was a large ice harvesting and shipping center, collecting ice from the canal connecting Chicago with the Mississippi watershed.

Gunther moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in December 1860, and worked for an ice importer and distributor, Bohlen, Wilson & Company, who imported ice from Peru, Illinois. Five months later the Civil War broke out and the ice business suffered. He aided the Confederate Army as a civilian in military service working as a steward and purser buying supplies and ferrying troops along the Mississippi River. His own account is preserved in his diaries during the two years he worked sailing and ferrying Confederate soldiers on the steamboat Rose Douglass along the Mississippi River, now available through the research and publication by Bruce S. Allardice and Wayne L. Wolf, Two Years Before The Paddlewheel : Charles F. Gunther Mississippi River Confederate. (Texas A & M, 2012). In December 1862, his ship was captured and destroyed at Van Buren, Arkansas. Gunther was captured by Union forces on the Arkansas River and held prisoner by the U. S. Army at Arkansas, but released to return home to Illinois. After his return to Illinois he became employed at the Peoria Bank. He worked there only a short term and became employed by C. W. Sanford as a candy salesman selling and distributing confections in the southern states. He made his first trip to Europe and returning to America worked for Thompson, Johnson & Company, Grocers. After a two year stay with the wholesale grocers firm he joined Greenfield, Young & Company of New York as their Chicago representative as a distributor of their confections at Chicago.

On April 15, 1867, Gunther applied for a U. S. Passport and Fred A. Chapman was the witness, possibly a relative of Jerome Milton Chapman the Chicago sugar broker at 2 Wasbash Avenue, who was a blood relative of the Chapmans of Philadelphia.

In 1868, he opened a candy store at 125 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois. Although caramel candy was known in England and Europe since the beginning of the eighteenth century, it is said that Gunther introduced their production into America through his Chicago candy factory. His corporate motto "Not so cheap, but how good." On May 2, 1870, he married Jennie Burnell (1849-1928), of Lima, Illinois, and they had two sons. The Great Fire from October 8th to 10th, 1871, destroyed his store, inventory, and early formed collection of rare artifacts that included a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. He first opened a soda parlor in the McVicker's Theater building. Afterwards he was able to reestablish himself in 1872 at 212 State Street, Chicago, and his business began to take off and boomed by 1875. Among his confectionery treats were chocolate candy cigars he called La Flor de Gunther Cigars' de chocolate.

Fig. 2. Photo-colored Post Card published c. 1912, the Gunther Building on the northwest corner of South Wabash Avenue and Harmon Court, by Curt Teich Company, Chicago, "Home of Gunther's Candies, Chicago". Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library.

At that time he began decorating his candy store with antiques and artifacts, coins and curiosities. In 1877, he purchased the deathbed of Abraham Lincoln setting it up in his store. He was also extremely naive and was easily bilked by flimflam artists who sold him fake relics and antiquities like the West Point Chain, the "Skin of the Serpent that Tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden", and the mummified remains of Moses' foster mother Bithiah. Yikes!

Fig. 3. Gunther corresponding with the Chapman Brothers, postmarked Chicago, November 24, 1884. There are currently eighty-one pieces of correspondence catalogued in the Lupia Numismatic Library. When the 1909 to 1920 material is completed the updated total of pieces sent by Gunther to the Chapmans shall be published. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Correspondence Archive. To see a few more pieces of mail see The Museum Store, this website, scroll down to The Chapman Family Correspondence Archive currently offered for sale as a whole, estimate $3.5 million USD. Serious auction houses, individuals, or institution buyers, please contact

Some historians consider him to have introduced advertising novelties into Chicago. Below in Figures 4-6 are examples of two trading cards Gunther issued to promote his business. In the January 1934 issue of The Numismatist on page 58, Mr. Davis of the Chicago Coin Club exhibited at the 177th meeting on November 1, 1933, a Confederate $10 note with the advertisement of C. F. Gunther of Chicago. Unfortunately, this is not listed in Bob Vlack's An Illustrated Catalogue of Early North American Advertising Notes. In the January 1968 issue of The Numismatist, on page 39, Melvin Fuld published on the Charles F. Gunther token. The obverse with the CENTENNIAL EXPOSITION OF CHICAGO 1876. Reverse with Spread Eagle and with the legend EAT GUNTHER"S CANDY AND YOU BE HAPPY. See Rulau IL-Ch 11, an 1876 white metal 30 mm token.

Figs. 4 -6. Three of several different Gunther's Candy trading cards. Left : "A Christmas Greeting", Center : "A Young Girl Gathering Berries", Right : "A Merry Christmas". Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library.

Fig. 7. The corporate motto : "Not How Cheap But How Good" on a scroll in front of a medallion and floral frond was printed in a variety of colors over time. Gunther corresponding with the Chapman Brothers, postmarked Chicago, September 24, 7:30 P. M., 1887. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Correspondence Archive.

From 1888- September 21, 1889, he reconstructed the Libby Prison War Museum, originally built in Richmond, Virginia, shipped stone by stone and purveyed by train via 132 twenty-ton cars to Chicago, was rebuilt on South Wabash Avenue, Garfield Park, which housed the largest collection of war relics known in the country. The Museum had a gift shop which Gunther called "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in which he sold silver Lincoln souvenir spoons, Libby Prison War Museum cigars, and other memorabilia including a 6"x6" guidebook, A Trip Through The Libby War Museum Chicago. The building originally was erected in 1845 by Luther Libby and occupied by him and his company Luther Libby & Sons, Shipchandlers. In 1861 it was taken over by the C.S.A. and converted into a war prison. After 1899 it was torn down and became the site of the Chicago Coliseum, which Gunther organized and was its first president. This and the 1893 Libby Prison Medal were written about in detail in the June 1945 issue of The Numismatist on page 572-574.

Gunther also assembled one of the largest collections of Washingtoniana and Lincolniana.

In 1889, Gunther became a trustee of the Chicago Historical Society, and a member of the Chicago Academy of Sciences. In the 1890's he began donating to the Chicago Academy of Sciences specimens of Natural History such as fossils, fish, birds, and minerals. He became a member of the Board of governors of the Chicago Art Institute.

He was a member of the Caxton Club and collected many rare editions of the Bible, the 1507 edition of Martin Waldseemueller's Cosmography with the earliest known map of America; manuscripts and rare editions of great writers and poets, and an autograph of William Shakespeare and holographs of Galileo, Goethe, Schiller, Tasso, George Washington, William Penn, Martin Luther, and Jean-Baptiste Poquelin known as Molière. He also collected many very important paintings including works by Rembrandt, Gilbert Stuart, Charles Wilson Peale's portrait of Washington, and Antonio Moro's 1552 portrait of Christopher Columbus. He owned what is thought to be the original manuscripts of The Star Spangled Banner, Home Sweet Home, Auld Lang Syne, and other popular songs.

In September 1892 when various proposed designs were being published and discussed for the Columbian Exposition Commemorative Half Dollar Gunther objected to the first one asserting his portrait of Columbus was a true likeness, not that offered by the director of the Philadelphia Mint. That year he donated three photographs of the Moro portrait of Columbus to the Detroit Museum of Art. This was recently discussed by Nancy Oliver and Richard Kelly, "Columbus Controversy," The Numismatist, November (2013) : 98-99.

In the July 1894 issue of The Numismatist on page 152, it was speculated that the Gunther Collection together with that of the H. H. Gatty and Gunning Collections of idols might go to the Field Museum.

He was a member of the Chicago Coliseum Company until it burned down in 1897. He also served as a Democrat for four years on the Chicago City Council, from 1896-1900, working as a Second Ward alderman. From 1901-1903 he served as the City Treasurer.

Fig. 8. The 1901 Campaign Poster of Charles F. Gunther as Democratic Party Candidate for City Treasurer.

In 1908, he lost his nomination by the Democrats as candidate for Governor of Illinois losing to former Vice-President Adlai E. Stevenson.

In 1893, it is said he introduced a new product line called "Cracker-Jacks," which became an immediate sensation lasting up to our day!

He was a thirty-third degree Mason of the Scottish Rite, a Noble of the Mystic Shrine of Medinah Temple, a Knight Templar, a member of the Union League, the Iroquois Club, Chicago Association of Commerce, and the Illinois Manufacturer's associations.

Fig. 9. Post Card of the Interior of Gunther's Candy Store in 1908. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library.

Gunther remained a trustee of the the Chicago Academy of Sciences until 1911.

Fig. 10. Photograph of Charles Frederick Gunther c. 1903.

Fig. 11. Charles F. Gunther correspondence five months prior to his death sent to Philadelphia coin dealer Henry Chapman, postmarked Chicago, Illinois, September 11, 1919. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Correspondence Archive.

He died of pneumonia on February 10, 1920, at the age of 83, at his home 3601 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. His funeral was at his home. He was a member of the Episcopal Church. He was survived by his wife and son Burnell (1871-1926). He was buried in the family mausoleum at Rose Hill Cemetery, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, where his son Whitman (1872-1907) had been interred thirteen years earlier. His death was announced by Theo Leon at the twelfth meeting of the Chicago Coin Club at the Sherman Hotel, Chicago, on Wednesday, March 3, 1920, and was published in the May 1920 issue of The Numismatist, page 208.

The Chicago Historical Society purchased Gunther's vast collection soon after his death paying less, $21,321.20, far less than the originally agreed on price from the estate for $150,000. On Thursday, August 26, 1920, at 2 P. M., the ANA Convention held at Chicago, held tours of the Gunther Collection at the Chicago Historical Society as part of the Convention program. A very quick and non descriptive mention of that visit was published in the October 1920 issue of The Numismatist on page 462. Curiously Waldo Moore had spotted a note with his own signature and that of Yawger written to Gunther mixed in a pile of back issues of The Numismatist packed in a trunk at the Chicago Historical Society that was being unpacked for the exhibit. One year later in the October 1921 issue of The Numismatist on pages 443-444 Moore related the account and how it took a year to get that note given back to him.

Fig. 12. Charles F. Gunther circa 1901-1903.

New York Times, Feb. 12, 1920

- Charles F. Gunther, Chicago Candy Manufacturer is a Pneumonia Victim -

Chicago, Feb. 11 - Charles Frederick Gunther, builder of one of the largest candy factories, Cracker Jacks, in the West and former Alderman and City Treasurer of Chicago, died of pneumonia yesterday. He was born in Wildberg, Germany, and came to this country when 5 years of age. In the civil war he served as an officer on a Confederate Steamboat on the Arkansas River. At the close of the war, he became a commercial traveler and in 1868 came to Chicago, where he opened a candy store, which grew to large proportions, and he later went into the manufacturing end of the business. Buried in Rosehill.

Fig. 13. Mausoleum of Charles F. Gunther, Rose Hill Cemetery, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois.


In the February 1927 issue of The Numismatist on page 99, the announcement of the Chicago Historical Society was reported of its intention to sell portions of the Gunther Collection.

American Art Association, Selections from the Charles F. Gunther Collection Sold by Order of the Chicago Historical Society: Foreign Printed Books, Oriental and European Manuscripts, Many Illuminated, Autographic Manuscript Music by the Great Composers, Early Printed Music, Autographs of Robert Burns, Pope and Other British and Continental Writers of Prominence, Also of French Royalty, &c., Shakespeareana, Including the Second and Fourth Folios, First Quarto of "Julius Caesar," Milton's Copy of Frischlin's "Comoediae", Etc. Part One.

American Art Association, Selections from the Charles F. Gunther Collection, Sold by Order of the Chicago Historical Society. Part Two

Bibliography :

Detroit Museum of Art, Annual Report (1893) : 7

The Numismatist, July (1894) : 152

The Successful Man, Volume 5, No. 3, March (1902) : 152-154

John A. Campbell, A Biographical History, with Portraits, of Prominent Men of the Great West. (Chicago : Western Biographical & Engraving Co., 1902) : 154-158

J. Seymour Currey, Chicago : Its History and Its Builders. A Century of Marvelous Growth. (1918) : 327-331

New York Times, Feb. 12, 1920

The Numismatist, May (1920) : 208

The Numismatist, October (1920) : 462

Newton Bateman, Paul Selby, and J. Seymour Currey, eds., Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois. (Chicago : Munsell Publishing Co., 1920) Volume II : 708

The Numismatist, October (1921) : 443-444

The Numismatist, February (1927) : 99

The Numismatist, January (1934) : 58

The Numismatist, June (1945) : 572-574.

The Numismatist, January (1968) : 39.

Clement M. Silvestro, "The Candy Man's Mixed Bag," Chicago History, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Fall, 1972) : 86-99.

Russ Rulau, Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 (Krause, 1997) : 475

Mike Conklin, "CHS Treasure Trove Came From Little Known Gunther," Chicago Tribune, August 12, 2001

Nancy Buenger, "Gunther, Charles Frederick," American National Biography, Supplement 2 (Oxford University Press, 2005) : 216-218

Bruce S. Allardice and Wayne L. Wolf, Two Years Before The Paddlewheel : Charles F. Gunther Mississippi River Confederate. (Texas A & M, 2012)

Wayne L. Wolf, "Charles F. Gunther: An Illinois Yankee Trapped into Working for the Confederacy," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1998-) Vol. 105, No. 2-3 (Summer-Fall 2012) : 225-236

Nancy Oliver and Richard Kelly, "Columbus Controversy," The Numismatist, November (2013) : 98-99.