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