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Grab a Coke and a Smile

The World of Coca-Cola Collecting

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Rare Coke Tray

Authentic Tin Coke Tray Dating to the 1890s

- Photo Courtesy of Morphy Auctions
Since 1886, generations of Americans have grown up with the familiar red and white Coca-Cola logo surrounding them at every advertising turn. In fact, it’s one of the most recognized brands around the globe. It’s no wonder that Coke memorabilia can be found in interesting and valuable collections the world over as well.

The Appeal of Coke Collectibles

As Coke continues to enter our lives through promotions of all types, collectors of this memorabilia realize the importance of this brand even more than those who simply love the drink. They ferret out Coca-Cola items wherever they can find them, always on the prowl for something remarkable and fun.

Clever marketers working for Coca-Cola have developed some pretty clever campaigns over the years, too. They often utilized the images beautiful women and Santa Claus in their ads and store displays, and these are favorites among collectors. After all, what's more fun than a gorgeous girl or Jolly 'Ole St. Nick? Some Coke aficionados credit the company for developing the image of Santa children know and love today, in fact.

The Value of Coca-Cola Memorabilia

If you want to collect affordably, Coke memorabilia offers literally thousands of ways to do so. Commemorative bottles usually sell for a few dollars each when issued. Or you can find vintage ad pages from old magazines at antique shows or flea markets selling for about $2-5 apiece for common examples. Some collectors even trade single vintage playing cards from beautifully illustrated decks.

Antiques dating from the late 1800s into the early 1900s, however, have priced themselves out of the market for the average collector. There are many, many collectibles worth hundreds of dollars each and others bring in prices well into the thousands at auction.

For example, in May of 2008 a colorfully decorated tin serving tray featuring a partially clad young woman as the central image sold at Morphy Auctions for $16,100. Morphy’s also auctioned a lithographed tin Coca-Cola tray illustrated with a ‘Gibson Girl’ drinking a glass of Coca-Cola dating to the 1890s for $12,075 in September, 2008. Older calendars, vending machines, and clocks represent just a few of the other Coca-Cola collectibles selling for a pretty penny these days.

For more selling prices, visit the Coca-Cola Collectibles Price Guide.

Beware of Reproduction and Fake Coke Items

Of course, when any collecting category produces pieces commanding prices in the thousands, reproductions follow close behind. Coke collectibles are no exception to this antiquing rule.

Since the 1970s, many Coca-Cola collectibles have been fabricated to imitate older items and passed off to those who didn't know any better. Numerous trays and several of the calendars have definitely been reproduced, and some of them are reported to be so near authentic they come close to fooling even expert dealers and collectors.

The fakes don't stop with the most expensive items, however. From bottles to coolers, reproductions abound in this area. Some items are made to look old but never existed as originals. Collectors refer to these as "fantasies."

Fantasy items range from belt buckles to bottle shaped knives and often make their way into antique shops, flea markets, and all types of collectibles shows. Even though most dealers don't intentionally sell them to dupe their customers, these fakes can eventually get passed on to uneducated consumers as authentic Coca-Cola collectibles.

To protect yourself and others, it's wise to purchase expensive pieces from a trustworthy dealer or auction house and to have items you own authenticated by an expert before trying to sell them for big bucks. Plan to arm yourself with knowledge by studying up on reproductions and fantasies before you go shopping as well.

Collecting Newer Coke Items

Even with all this questionable reproduction and fantasy activity going on, avoiding pitfalls when collecting Coke memorabilia remains a possibility. Purchasing affordable items, whether new or old, offers all lovers of Coca-Cola a way to join in on the fun.

Most people buying for investment purposes will disagree with this recommendation, but collecting isn't always about making money. Lots of people pick up Coke items for sheer amusement and they don’t necessarily care if their collections hold or increase in value over time. If they can't afford older pieces, something newer will suffice.

Among these collectors are gatherers of commemorative Coke bottles mentioned earlier as affordable alternatives. Bottle hounds seek six-ounce Cokes distributed in conjunction with sporting events, charitable functions and even political rallies. Most of these commemoratives sell in the $3-10 range when new and probably won't increase much in value for quite some time.

But just to prove that newer collectibles can turn out to be valuable on occasion, a commemorative bottle from the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston reportedly can sell for several hundred dollars if the right customer comes along. Why?

Parched Republicans emptied most of the bottles on hand while quenching their thirst during the big party that wrapped up this major political event. Those lucky enough to save an unopened bottle as a souvenir made a wise decision. So did folks who saved 1986 Coke items specially marked with a centennial anniversary logo. Many of these collectibles are already valuable as well.

Collectors devoted to vintage pieces steer clear of modern commemorative bottles, and anything else produced since the 1970s with the 'Dynamic Contour' logo. That’s a fancy name for the twisting white ribbon under the Coca-Cola or Coke emblem still seen today. Not a problem though. That leaves the newer items for folks who thirst for collectibles on a budget.

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