Coca Cola collectibles carry one of the best-known logos in the world, one that has become almost a shorthand for American consumer culture. The changing design of Coca Cola bottles and labels is also a historical microcosm of consumer packaged goods design, and various items of Coca Cola memorabilia, such as calendars, trays, and posters, likewise provide a snapshot into the history of advertising. Among the many collectibles available, there're items in every price range, making Coca Cola collectibles an ever-popular item to collect.
Early Coke Collectibles
The Coca Cola company began in 1886 and its titular product was first served as a patent medicine. In 1887, Asa Candler, a pharmacist and entrepreneur, bought the secret formula for Coca Cola and began an aggressive promotion and advertising campaign. Promotions included items like trays, calendars, and posters, usually depicting a fashionable woman in the very pink of health, drinking a glass of Coca Cola. These items almost always refer to it as "delicious" and "refreshing," and magazine ads, in particular, often added enthusiastic claims about its ability to relieve fatigue. Unsurprisingly, some of these early Coca Cola collectibles can sell for tens of thousands. Collections may include small objects such as pins, bottles, advertising signs and Holiday collectibles or large items such as soda fountains, soda machines and even delivery trucks!
Rare and Valuable Early Coca Cola Collectibles
Coca Cola was well-known for its inventive marketing campaigns, and some collectibles from the company's early period are highly sought after by avid collectors. These include:
- Hutchinson bottle: Prior to 1900, a special bottle shape called the Hutchinson bottle transported Coca Cola to thirsty consumers. While vintage Coke bottles aren't particularly rare, the Hutchinson bottle is an exception. Such a bottle in excellent condition may sell at auction for over $2,000. This price greatly depends upon the condition, however.
- Lillian Nordica advertising: Lillian Nordica was a famous American opera singer in the late 19th century. She was the pop icon of her day, and her image adorned advertisements, calendars, trays, and even bookmarks advertising Coca Cola. This was a revolutionary approach to advertising and branding, and collectibles featuring her image as much sought-after by those collecting opera memorabilia, advertising collectibles, and, of course, Coca Cola collectibles.
- 1915 Prototype bottle - During the early 20th century, Coca Cola underwent a few rounds of redesigns for their now iconic bottle shape. Yet, very few of these prototype bottles are known to exist, and one recently went to auction. This Roots Company prototype bottle from 1915 is thought to be the only one of its kind that's survived and sold for $105,000, making it one of the most valuable Coke products ever sold.
- Coca Cola vending machines - Even in states of decay or in non-working order, Coke vending machines can be worth a few thousand dollars to the right buyers. While Vendo brand machines from the 1950s are by far the most desirable, you can routinely find all kinds of Coca Cola licensed vintage vending machines for sale between $1,000-$10,000.
- Decorative Coca-Cola trays - A popular early 20th century advertising product that Coca Cola became known for was their decorative tin trays. These serving trays usually featured an idyllic scene of a young woman or man drinking a bottle of coke. While there're reproductions abound of these quaint trays, the originals - like this 1930s/1940s tray - are by far the more valuable of the two, with those in the best condition selling anywhere between $50-$100 to the right collectors.
Coca Cola Bottles
Because Coca Cola sold in bottles almost from the launch of the product, a myriad of bottles from various decades exist. Yet, the only truly valuable Coca Cola bottle is the aforementioned Hutchinson bottle. Slab sided or straight-sided bottles, also produced early in the company's history, as well as older bottles in shades of aqua, blue, and other colors, are worth a little more than others, but not by much. While Coca Cola bottles are a fun collectible, they aren't worth much and don't increase in value.
Coca Cola Collectibles From the 1930s to Today
Starting around 1935, Coca Cola launched new Holiday advertising that became a highly sought-after collectible. Other items produced during World War II, such as ration cards, vinyl records and sheet music, and even games and toys, joined the growing array of collectible products bearing the company's logo.
- Holiday collectibles: Starting around 1935, Coca Cola featured the image of a jolly, plump-cheeked Santa Claus in his trademark red suit created by artist Haddon Sundbloom. Collectors Weekly notes that the most valuable Holiday collectibles feature Sundbloom's iconic artwork. Look for advertising prints, tree ornaments and other Holiday themed collectibles dating from the late 1930s to modern times.
- Calendars: Calendars continued their popularity, but around the 1940s, the company began to use photographs rather than drawings or paintings.
- Games and toys: In the 1940s, Coca Cola partnered with Milton-Bradley to produce several games and toys with a Coca Cola theme. Many of these items remain an affordable collectible. For example, a dart game from the 1940s featuring the Coke logo sells for around $30 today.
- MIlitary items: During WWII, Coke included military themes in its advertising at home and provided Coke to American troops overseas. Items to look for include matchbook covers with the Coke logo as well as ration cards for Coca Cola.
- Vinyl records and sheet music: Many people remember the iconic "hilltop" commercial with the unforgettable jingle I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing advertising Coca Cola in the 1970s. Records and sheet music from this golden era are highly sought after by collectors, but older songs mentioning Coke, such as the Andrews Sister's original recording of Rum and Coca Cola from 1944, are also collectible.
Identification and Value
Perhaps you found an old Coke bottle in your grandma's basement or an old-looking serving tray with the Coke icon in the attic. Is it worth anything? Is it even a genuine Coke item or a copy? Coke continued to produce everything from wastebaskets emblazoned with its old advertising images to holiday ornaments, so it's important to confirm the age of the object as well as its identification to ascertain value. A good collector's guide, such as Petretti's Coca Cola Price Guide and Encyclopedia, can help you correctly identify your item and estimate its age and value. Note the condition of the item, too; scratches, dents, fading and damage significantly decrease the value of potential collectibles.
Coca Cola Collecting Clubs
Today, many collectors of Coca Cola collectibles enjoy belonging to the Coca Cola collecting club. With more than 40 local chapters throughout the country, the organization also hosts regional and national events and conventions, as well as regular and silent auctions. The Coca Cola Collectors Club also publishes a monthly newsletter and their website includes articles about featured collectors.
Another collectors club for Coca Cola collectors is the Cavanagh's Coca-Cola Christmas Collectors Society. Members of this specialized club collect Coca Cola Christmas collectibles and ornaments.
Crack Open a Cold One of Coke
With so many vintage and modern items to collect, you may want to pick a focus for your collection, such as collecting only items from the early period or collecting only Holiday themed items. Whatever you choose, Coca Cola's enduring legacy and fun collectibles make these items a treat to collect, display and enjoy.