Wilkins and Wontkins are the Muppet stars of one of the earliest, and perhaps longest running, commercial series made by Jim Henson, appearing in 8 second spots for Wilkins Coffee. Wilkins was a smiling character named for the coffee, and Wontkins was his generally dour counterpart, a grumpy blob who couldn't stand the Wilkins brand. Wilkins would be a strong proponent of drinking Wilkins Coffee, and would attempt to convince Wontkins to drink it, too. Wontkins however, almost always refused, leading Wilkins to maim, destroy, assault, and sometimes kill Wontkins over his dislike of Wilkins Coffee. Wontkins, however, occasionally would admit that he liked Wilkins Coffee. Throughout the ads, Wontkins never smiled, unlike Wilkins.
Wontkins was named as Wilkins' opposite: they either "will" or "won't" drink the coffee. If you won't, bad things will happen to you.
A typical commercial would go like this:
- (Wilkins and Wontkins appear under a sign reading "Wilkins Coffee". Wilkins speaks into a large, tabletop microphone)
- Wilkins: Care for a cup of Wilkins Coffee?
- Wontkins: No, I don't like coffee.
- (As Wontkins says this, a hand from off screen places a gun next to Wontkins head. As he completes the line, the gun fires, dropping Wontkins out of frame in a puff of smoke)
- Wilkins: This has been a public service announcement.
The repeated abuse would sometimes lead Wontkins to try and outsmart Wilkins by proclaiming his love for Wilkins Coffee, but Wilkins would generally see through this and pummel Wontkins anyway. This no-win scenario sometimes made for commercials like this:
- (Wontkins appears next to Wilkins, who is brandishing a large club. Wontkins begins to talk in a stilted, scripted manner)
- Wontkins: Wilkins makes good coffee.
- (Wilkins smacks Wontkins with the club)
- Wontkins: Better Coffee?
- (Wilkins hits Wontkins again with the club)
- Wontkins: Wilkins makes the BEST coffee!!
- Wilkins: (nodding in approval) Congratulations.
Sometimes, nothing happened to Wontkins - occasionally utilizing another form of humor. This happened in very few commercials. One example of this is:
- (Wilkins and Wontkins are on a game show. Wontkins has a microphone)
- Wontkins: You win a new car or a case of Wilkins Instant Coffee.
- Wilkins: I'll take the Wilkins Coffee.
- Wontkins: We'll never get rid of that car.
The characters proved so popular that in October 1958, the company offered vinyl puppets of Wilkins and Wontkins through the mail for $1.00 and a coffee can label. The offer on the can said, "Hey Kids! I'm Wilkins and he's Wontkins -- you see us on TV!" These puppets are difficult to find today. Years later, Community Coffee offered hand puppets of the characters.
The pair were also used in ads for other products, including Wilkins tea, and assorted other brands, and established a basic pattern which would be reflected in later commercial teams, such as Scoop and Skip, Tommy and Fred, and Mack and Suzy.
In October 1990, the company attempted to reboot the characters, without the Henson Company's approval. The company offered t-shirts and ran ads from at least December 1990 to February 1991. John T. Brady & Associates and the Wilkins Coffee Co. were sued by Jim Henson Productions.
In 2019, Wilkins and Wontkins made an illustrated cameo in The Muppet Christmas Carol: The Illustrated Holiday Classic.
- Wilkins Coffee (1957-1961)
- Faygo (1958-1959)
- La Touraine Coffee (1958-1962) (as "Will" and "Waine")
- Nash's Coffee (1958-1961)
- Community Coffee (1959-1969)
- Jomar Instant (1959)
- National City Bank (1959)
- Calso Water (1961) (as "Cal" and "So")
- Donovan Coffee Company (1961-1966)
- Frank's Beverages (1961-1963) (as "Frank" and "Fink")
- Kraml Dairy (1962)
- Merita Bread (1963)
- Taystee Bread (1967)
- Muppets on Puppets (1968, Wontkins cameo)
- Sohio gas stations (Unknown)
- Dugan's Bread (Unknown)
- Falk, Karen. "Jim Henson's Red Book", 3/13-14/1969 – Shoot Community Coffee.
- Wilkins and Wontkins T-Shirt Offer, The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), October 21, 1990.
- Eben Shapiro (The New York Times), "Legal fight brewing over use of two Muppets", The Arizona Daily Star (Tuscon, Arizona), July 19, 1992, pg 5.