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New wave of 'pog' mania crests over Hawaii : Revival of a game played in the '30s has made the cardboard milk bottle covers a fad all over again.

AMERICAN ALBUM

June 07, 1993|SUSAN ESSOYAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

HONOLULU — Hawaii has gone "pog" wild.

Grandparents and children both scramble for pogs. Nearly every other store is hawking them. Politicians push them.

Pogs have even infiltrated a cherished Hawaiian custom. The most fashionable lei these days is made not of fragrant blossoms but of small disks of cardboard.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 10, 1993 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Hawaiian bottle caps--An American Album article on June 7 about a game played with cardboard bottle caps by children in Hawaii should have noted that POG is a registered trademark of Orchards Hawaii Inc.

That's right, cardboard. A pog, more properly known as a "milk cover" or "milk cap," is nothing more than a circle of paperboard roughly the size of a poker chip.

Once upon a time, the humble milk cover had a practical function: to seal milk bottles. Today, they are the ultimate business card here, everyone's favorite collectible. They even are credited with keeping kids off drugs.

They have flooded the islands by the millions and may be headed for the mainland.

"I have people wagging their fingers at me, saying they've spent their grocery money on pogs, and now they have to feed their kids pog soup," chuckles Blossom Galbiso, a guidance teacher at Waialua Elementary School on Oahu who helped kick off the craze.

The pog phenomenon has its roots in the 1930s, when there wasn't much money for toys and Hawaii's kids started playing with the covers of milk bottles. They piled them into a stack and then threw another one on top with such force that some were dislodged. Any cap that flipped over was yours to keep.

When plastic and paper packaging pushed aside the venerable milk bottle, milk caps faded into oblivion except for the production of one small Canadian company, STANPAC Inc. Tiny Haleakala Dairy on Maui continued to hand some out to children as a promotional gimmick.

Nearly two years ago, hoping to provide a nonviolent alternative to "sham battle," a schoolyard game that involves throwing a ball at your opponent as hard as possible, Galbiso rounded up some of the Haleakala milk covers. Her students took to the game immediately. Not only did it replace sham battle, pogs even prevailed over Nintendo.

"It's fun," said Jared Losano, 11. "It's a challenge. In Nintendo, you already know what's going to happen. In pogs, everything is different every time."

The Waialua kids favored a red milk cover promoting one of Haleakala's juice drinks, a mixture of passion fruit, orange and guava (POG) that depicted a furry little animal (a "poglodyte") on a surfboard. Hence the game's new nickname.

Last fall Sgt. Greg Hunt of the Honolulu Police Department decided to use milk covers as incentives for kids in the department's Drug Abuse Resistance Education project. He drummed up private funding and issued a 100,000-piece limited edition last September. All of a sudden, through DARE classes, milk covers were in every public school and most private schools.

Demand exploded. Soon sidewalks were covered with schoolchildren playing pogs. People of all ages began collecting them. Dealers stocked milk covers instead of baseball cards. Schools and businesses issued their own. One little league group sold so many pogs that it canceled its annual fund-raising luau.

STANPAC, which bills itself as the only authentic milk cover producer in North America, was overwhelmed with orders. Until last fall, the company used one machine to pump out milk covers just a couple of days each month. It has now pressed another five "ancient" machines into service around the clock, marketing manager Murray Bain said.

Eighty million pogs have been shipped from the small plant in Smithville, Ontario, to Hawaii this year. Another four million arrive every week.

Printers from Hawaii to Taiwan have churned out millions upon millions of "faux pogs," decorated with glitzy designs, including holograms. Their disks don't have the distinguishing features of the originals: a pull tab for removal, a small staple to keep the tab attached, and a paraffin wax coating to keep it from getting soggy. But unlike real milk covers, which can be printed in only two colors, the sky's the limit for faux pogs.

When they aren't given away or won in a game, milk covers usually sell for a few cents to half a dollar. Some old originals fetch as much as $100 apiece.

Entrepreneurs have made small fortunes on the fad. Preachers and politicians use milk covers to popularize their messages. There are pogs made of plastic, leather and koa, the treasured native Hawaiian wood.

The milk-cover mania baffles many observers. "It's very bizarre," said DeSoto Brown, a collector, writer and archivist for Bishop Museum who is writing a book on the original milk covers. "Like most fads, it's beyond any logical explanation."

Entrepreneurs now are turning their sights toward the mainland United States. Some trade shows have introduced milk covers in California and Texas, along with instructions for the game.

"We haven't seen any repeat orders from the seed that's been sown," said Bain, "but it's all so recent that it wouldn't be time for a reorder yet."

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