Walk into any antiques store in North America and you’ll be hard-pressed not to find a Coca-Cola memento of some sort. Bottles, trays, openers, tin cars and trucks, calendars and signs are but a few of the pieces Coca-Cola has produced or licenced over the span of its 130-year history. At the time no one would have dreamed that these marketing and advertising items would become treasured collectors’ items, however their place in peoples’ everyday lives has gained them some serious sentimental as well as dollar value around the world. Amassing Coca-Cola collectibles has become a lifelong obsession for some.

There is no better example of this passion for collecting than The Coca-Cola Collectors Club. Started in 1974 as an independent non-profit, the club’s website states its mission as being “to promote the preservation and collection of memorabilia related to the Coca-Cola Company.” Today The Coca-Cola Collectors Club has 48 chapters globally from Canada and the U.S. to as far afield as Europe, Australia, and Asia. There are regional or national club events every month, and conversations on collectibles are taking place through online forums all the time. With this level of engagement, it’s easy to see why Coca-Cola collectors arguably make up one of the largest, most organized collectors' clubs in the world.  

Collecting isn’t limited to people outside the company. As employees it’s hard not to become a bottle collector as well. Walking through Coke’s Atlanta headquarters, you can’t help but notice the assortment of bottles neatly arranged at each person’s desk. You quickly realize that determining who has been at Coca-Cola the longest is as easy as seeing who has the most bottles. Admittedly, we collect for different sentimental reasons than outside collectors. For an employee, each bottle represents a major project, event or personal achievement accomplished while at the company.

So with so many items, events and collectors, you may be wondering how someone gets started creating their own personal collection? We went to retired VP of Heritage Communications and Chief Archivist, Phil Mooney, for help. Throughout his 35-year career with Coca-Cola, Mooney was in charge of building the Coca-Cola Company’s archives — and he’s pretty much a walking encyclopedia when it comes to Coke collector items. So if you can show him something he hasn’t seen, you’re doing well. Mooney graciously sat down with us to share some collector tips.

1. Get educated

Mooney’s number-one recommendation in starting your own collection is to take the time “to get a sense of the prices for things. Talk to people who have been collecting a while.” One of Mooney’s all-time favourite reference books is Petretti’s Coca-Cola Collectibles Price Guide 12th edition, aka the Coke Collector Bible. In it, you might be shocked to learn a tray could range in value from $37,000 in mint condition all the way down to $1 in poor condition.

Another great way to determine the current value for Coke memorabilia is to watch prices on eBay. A quick search for “Coca-Cola” on the site recently netted over 60,000 results. You can even create alerts for items you want to keep track of.

And the last, most engaging way to educate yourself is to connect with other collectors. With the national and local collectors groups, there are monthly meetings you can attend. There is a major convention in Atlanta every year that includes an auction, swap meet and room hopping — where rooms are set up like a Coca-Cola flea market.

2. Choose where you want to focus

The second piece of advice from Mooney is to decide what interests you most: “You can’t collect everything, but with so many shapes, sizes and colours you can become an expert in a given category.” And with Coke collecting, no category is too small. Of the many collectors Mooney has met over the years, he says, “I know one person who just collects pencils, pens and matchbooks. Then there are folks that focus on paper — advertising books and manuals.”

The 100th-anniversary Fenway Park bottle was framed with a matte signed by all the Red Soxplayers and presented to Mooney to celebrate his 35th anniversary at Coca-Cola

Ashley Callahan

“Pins and change trays can make a good starter collection,” says Mooney. “They are small, display well, and are in somewhat of a depressed market right now — so you can get them for a reasonable investment.” In narrowing your focus, remember to start off slowly and take the time to find what you like. “Is it the 3-D feel of a tray, or do you like the graphic appeal of a calendar or a poster? No one will ever have everything, so you’re better off self-defining early on what you find appealing.”

If you want to concentrate on bottles, we recommend being specific as this area alone can be narrowed down into aluminum or glass bottles and then into commemorative, antique, contour and straight-sided. There are further subcategories as well, such as the commemorative bottles created for special events like the Olympic Games or the launch of the new Coke sign in Atlanta. A collector may decide to only pursue sports-edition bottles, bottles made for McDonald’s or Wendy’s customers, special presidential or political bottles, such as the special bottle created for Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. There are so many options that it only makes sense to begin educating yourself first.

3. Budget money and space ahead of time

At the end of the day, money and space will ultimately determine what you can collect. Vending machines are fun collectors' items, but after you have two or three, you may quickly run out of space to display them. Deciding in advance whether you have a shelf, a room, or even a dedicated floor for your collection will help narrow your focus and, of course, determining your budget will then help you know where you can spend it.

For example, if your objective is to have 10 shelves of bottles because the look appeals to you, then begin collecting with that in mind. Mooney has been to some houses where the walls are lined with Coke bottles, and the best part is most of those bottles new can run for between $5 to $10 apiece.

The Coca-Cola bottle created for Georgia Governor Nathan Deal.

Ashley Callahan

Our trademark contour bottles are popular collectibles and are relatively inexpensive to acquire. The bottles are made in various cities and states, so there are many to choose from. Older bottles have raised, embossed lettering, and newer ones have white writing and include patent dates.

If you want fewer, but more valuable collectibles, antique bottles made between 1900 and 1920 could be the answer you are looking for, but note they can represent a sizable investment. Typically, bottles from that era will be in the $300 range, so most collectors would need to be more selective within this collectors' category.

4. Buy the best that your money can buy

No matter what you end up choosing to collect, buy items in the best condition you can find, or they won’t retain their value as well. That goes for all collectibles from bottles and calendars to coolers and vending machines.

One of Mooney's prized items, “Phil in a Bottle.”

Ashley Callahan

The other warning is to be careful with your initial buys. While one of the more exciting ways to add to your collection is to bid on items at an auction, it can be easy to get in over your head. Mooney recommends that you start by observing several auctions without buying. This will give you the opportunity to “see how they work and see what the pace of the auction is. Figure out the different strategies people are using in bidding.” Also be aware of the character of the auction you go into, some may set more accessible prices while others may serve collectors at the more expensive end of the spectrum. The smart move is to attend a few meetings and conventions, do research on eBay, and check out a few auctions before making a single bid.

With these tips from Mooney, you are now more than prepared to begin your new hobby and join the thousands of people globally who are already trading and collecting Coca-Cola memorabilia. Of course we couldn’t let our expert go without asking him to share details about his favourite bottles. He has two: The first he calls “Phil in a Bottle,” which was a surprise gift following a trip to China to celebrate the company’s 125th birthday. When he returned to Georgia, he received a bottle created by a local Chinese artist who made a reverse painting of Mooney. It doesn’t get much more personal than that! And, notes Mooney, what makes it particularly special is that “it’s directly relevant to something I participated in.”

Mooney’s other favourite is a bottle he received just this year to celebrate his 35thanniversary at Coca-Cola. He grew up in Boston and is, naturally, a huge Red Sox fan. So the company presented him with the 100th-anniversary Fenway Park bottle, which was framed with a matte signed by all the Red Sox players.