California Appraisal Event
By Phil Mooney
Director, Archives Department
For over five hours on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2003, people lined up with their potential
treasures at the Harrah's Rincon Casino & Resort near San Diego, CA, hoping for
some good news at the Coca-Cola Collectors Appraisal Affair. Close to 100 people
came to the California appraisal event to learn about the value or history of
Coca-Cola® items they had.
Among those who came to the event were local members of the Coca-Cola
Collectors Club. Some brought prized items they just wanted to share, while others
came to see the World of Coca-Cola on Tour exhibit on display at the resort.
At events such as this, bottles are the most common item people bring to be
appraised, and this California event was no exception. I saw many embossed
contour bottles from various time periods. Because the bottles were mass produced,
and because they are so sturdy, many remain in circulation today. Even the earliest
embossed contour bottles do not hold much value, with most worth about $5 or $10.
Many people have commemorative bottles -- those created to commemorate a
special occasion or sports team -- in their collections. I saw a number of
commemorative bottles in California, including a recent bottle with the Coca-Cola
Santa and a bottle from the 1996 Republican convention. Commemorative bottles
vary in value, based on how many bottles were created, the condition of the bottle,
and how easy the bottle is to obtain. Even if they don't collect other Coca-Cola
memorabilia, many people possess one or two of these commemorative bottles
because of a particular interest. On average, most of these bottles are in the $5-10
Another common item is lapel pins, usually created for the
Olympic Games or another sporting event. I saw pins from
the 1984 Los Angeles Games, pins for the San Diego
Padres and several Disney pin sets. Pins often peak in
value during the time of the sporting event, when the
passion for pin trading is at its highest. Most of the pins I
saw were only worth $1 or $2 each. I also saw a number of
current collectible items -- those sold by licensees who
produce Coca-Cola toys, clothing, household items and
more. These licensed items are a wonderful way to start a
collection, or even decorate a room in Coca-Cola items.
Most licensed items are still too new to have established a
value beyond the sales price.
Although not as common as lapel pins, people also
brought light-up signs, 1950s picnic coolers and
even vending machines. Fortunately, most of those
with venders only brought photos to the resort,
except for one person who had this machine in his
truck and led me to the parking lot to see it live!
I saw a number of unusual
and valuable items in
California. One man
brought a syrup keg from
1910, worth several thousand dollars. This rare keg, still
containing the syrup and the original cork, had a full label
on it; the paper labels usually are incomplete or damaged
on these kegs. I also saw a 1940s sterling silver set of
Coca-Cola salt and pepper shakers valued at
approximately $5,000, and a very rare window decal from
the 1920s. Another person had a carrier used to sell bottled
Coca-Cola in ballparks in the 1930s; the style of these
carriers is very different from the way drinks are served today, only holding less than
a dozen drinks.
An unusual part of the history of Coca-Cola is Coca-Cola chewing gum. Most people
don't know there was such a thing, but it was quite popular early in the last century.
The gum was available in spearmint, peppermint and wintergreen. Although the
sticks of gum are very rare, I actually had two different people bring sticks (even of
different flavors) for me to appraise. Each stick of gum can be worth over $1,000, and
the jars that used to display the gum are prized collectibles as well. At a private
auction several years ago, a single stick sold for more than $7,000.
Amid the rare collectibles I saw were some fake and reproduction items. The fake
items -- often called "fantasy" items -- were never authorized by Coca-Cola. In fact,
some of the fantasy items are quite infamous within the collector community,
including a number of belt buckles with the Coca-Cola trademark; I saw a wide
variety of these in California, along with a number of metal tokens that supposedly
granted the bearer a free Coca-Cola. The phony tokens never earned anyone a free
drink, and they don't earn a high price as a collectible, either. Some people buy
fantasy items knowing they are fakes, but unfortunately many do not know the truth
before they buy.
Reproduction items also can confuse buyers. In particular, a series of reproduction
trays introduced in the 1970s, but featuring images from the early 1900s, still lead
people to think they have a very valuable piece, when in fact they have a nice tray
worth approximately $10. I saw some of these trays in California, and hated to
break the news to those who thought they had a thousand-dollar item!
Because of the long history of Coca-Cola, memorabilia is often passed between the
generations. That can leave questions about the history of some items. It can also
create misunderstandings stemming from family folklore, such as those who believe
an item is from a date that proves impossible. In California I saw a bottle of diet
Coke® that someone believed was from the 1970s. Diet Coke was introduced in
1982, so it wasn't possible to have a bottle from the 70s!
However, having items passed down is how many of the Coca-Cola collectibles
survived throughout the years. If you have an item that's been passed down to you
and would like to know more about it, be on the lookout for an appraisal event in
your area, or join the Coca-Cola Collectors Club to meet others who are interesting in
As with all collectibles, prices vary depending on the market, and depend on what
someone is willing to pay for an item. The values I give are my own personal
judgment based on recent selling prices, price guides and my experience, but prices
could be less or more in an actual sale or auction.