An introduction to Coca-Cola collectables

08 April 2020
There has been a lot of Coca-Cola merchandise and promotional paraphernalia made over the years. You know that already, of course. You can't have missed it.
An introduction to Coca-Cola collectables Images

There are diecast models, lighters and bar accessories. You'll see toys, signage, clothing, records and advertising ephemera, all emblazoned with the Coca-Cola logo. In many countries across the world just mentioning yo-yos generically will inspire nostalgic musings about Coca-Cola branded 'spinners'. And garages up and down the UK likely still harbour decaying examples of the beloved mini-footballs splashed with the drinks maker's logo during events like the Italia 1990 World Cup. Indeed, there's even a wealth of official reproduction goods out there; especially where the likes of bar mirrors and trays are concerned.

If you still need convincing, take an online meander through the listings of books devoted specifically to Coca-Cola collectables, from those specialising on Christmas knick knacks or plush toys, to long running dedicated price guides. There is even a devoted Coca-Cola Collectors Club. Join up, and you'll have access to Coca-Cola Collectors Club exclusive items. Get lucky, and you might find some of those items at the official Coca-Cola Collectors Fair events, of course. The Coca-Cola logo really has got around.

The reason for all the fever is surely that Coca-Cola is such an icon of Americana, nostalgia, capitalism and pop culture. People are drawn to the brand and all it suggests, so producers keep manufacturing items. As result, the associated collecting scene offers a near bottomless pit.

You'd even be forgiven for assuming that the brand's decade's old merchandising machine rivals the main business of supplying fizzy drinks. However, considering that across the Coca-Cola drinks range – which includes lines like Fanta and Sprite – some 10,450 bottles and cans are consumed every second of every day globally, suddenly all of that merchandise seems rather trivial.

Still, there is a lot out there to collect. Especially if you also consider the thousands of variants of cans and the iconic glass bottles produced since the drink's conception by pharmacist John Pemberton in 1886. Devoted Coca-Cola collectors are vast in number, even in a particular area of focus like packaging. So if you are looking to collect the brand's items for the first time, you might be wise to pick a speciality.

Dive into Google, eBay or a specialist auction site with a general search for 'Coca-Cola', and you'll likely to be so overwhelmed by choice you might never get to buying anything. Perhaps you already collect diecast vehicles? Or plush toys? Or yo-yos? Or advertising trays? Then branching out into Coca-Cola might bring some interesting variety to your existing collection. And even in those narrow fields, over the 122 years of the brand's history, there have been a lot of different items produced.

Here at Collectors Gazette it's the more recent fun and novel items that get our mouse finger twitching as it hovers over the 'bid' button. Remember those sound-activated dancing Coke cans – resplendent with plastic headphones and shades? One in very good condition with original packaging shouldn't set you back more than £25. 

Got £60-to-£100 to spare? Then you could readily treat yourself to one of the giant Coca-Cola cans that housed a stereo behind hidden doors.

Another light-hearted Coca-Cola collectable in living memory for most of us will be the large plastic cups given away at cinemas. If you went to a screening of Roger Rabbit in 1988, there's every chance that buying the largest size fizzy drink available would see you rewarded with a reusable cup sporting the scandal-hit bunny. The same was true of many films, from Jurassic Park to Ghostbusters and Batman to Star Wars.

Of course, those Star Wars cups are going to be equally appealing to Coca-Cola collectors and the fervent devotees to George Lucas' family-friendly space opera. Which brings us to the main challenge of Coca-Cola collecting, and the reason things can get very pricey away from the widely distributed promotional items of the past 40 years.

Alas, the range, variety and volume of Coca-Cola merchandise, packaging and advertising materials available doesn't equate to consistently affordable collecting.

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Fancy yourself a Coca-Cola clock? Be ready to compete with clock collectors. Spotted a pre-war Coca-Cola toy? The avid toy collectors focused on that era will have too. Fancy that lot of Coca-Cola trading cards? You get the idea.

And that is why some Coca-Cola items are wildly expensive. The most famous example must be the beautiful early glass Coca-Cola bar globe. The promotional chandelier is an exquisite piece of craftsmanship formerly housed in The Schmidt Museum – itself a Coca-Cola exhibit – and showcases a wonderful mosaic of coloured glass. Estimated to sell for $28,000-to-$30,000 in 2011, at auction it hit $140,000.

More historic, perhaps, and relative more affordable, are items featuring Hilda Clark; known affectionately as 'the face of Coca-Cola'. A music hall star and socialite of her time, she started to work with Coca-Cola at some point around 1895. With the drinks manufacturer still in its infancy, it was clearly quickly aware of the power of advertising, promotional items and partnering with big names. Clark's work started when Coca-Cola itself was only available in soda fountains and pharmacies, so it is much harder to find items featuring her likeness pitched to ordinary consumers. As such, a tiny paper bookmark featuring Clark and the Coca-Cola logo has sold before for $600. The reason? It's value as a piece of advertising history might overshadow its value to a Coca-Cola collector.

Of course, with there being Coca-Cola collectibles price guides, clubs and events, it is beyond the scope of this humble article to highlight every interesting artefact. So we'll finish with one of our favourites, and one of the more obscure.

Pepsi Invaders is fascinating in all kinds of ways. Also known as 'Coke Wins', it is a clone of iconic arcade video game space Invaders. And it was commissioned by Coca-Cola from Atari, who made the real Space Invaders. Players would shoot down the letters that spelled Pepsi: hardly a subtle dig at Coca-Cola's main rival of the time. Given away at the Coke company's 1983 sales convention, the game came in an unmarked cartridge. Often cited as one of the earliest examples of in-game advertising, it also subtly tweaked the gameplay mechanics of Space Invaders. That means it is desirable to game collectors, advertising preservationists, and the Coca-Cola completionist alike. The result? A couple of examples have sold on eBay for around $2,000. The experts at the Atari 2600 Rarity Guide predict that if a mint boxed version exists, it is worth up to $4,000.

Did Coca-Cola really invent Santa Claus?

There's a popular urban myth that says the Santa Claus as we know him is a creation of the Coca-Cola merchandising department, and that the festive season's colour scheme of red and white really comes from the soft drink's logo.

Is it true? Does the ultimate Coca-Cola collectible live with his wife at the North Pole?

Certainly, prior to 1930, Santa was often depicted and thin, stern and elf-like.  Coca-Cola even used that version in their own materials. But from 1930 on, Coca-Cola absolutely depicted the Santa we know today; portly, rosey-cheeked, and dressed in red and white.

However, back before Coca-Cola's conception, Thomas Nast's 1881 illustration 'Merry Old Santa Claus' depicted something rather like the Santa we know today. The first Coca-Cola ad to develop and use that style of Santa was by Fred Mizan, and came in 1930. Consensus suggests that as the ad depicts a department store Santa, that vision of Father Christmas must have already existed. Department store Santa's of the time surely would have got their idea from somewhere, after all.

Certainly, Coca-Cole deserves credit for refining, establishing and popularising today's Santa. But as with so many folk icons, there simply isn't a linear origin story.