Taken in 1951 during an expedition to the Himalayas, the photographs show suspiciously large footprints in the snow.
With this year’s Christmas Coca-Cola adverts now busting onto television screens across the world, Wikicollecting’s thoughts turn to the history of collectibles related to this giant of advertising.
Coca-Cola retains the status of the most collectible brand in existence, a monopoly that arose out of a profound genius for merchandising, employed since the drink's auspicious origins in 1886.
Coca-Cola was invented by Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton in 1886, as a medicinal tonic containing cocaine and kola nut extracts. It is said that Pemberton spent more money advertising his drink than he took in from sales that first year of business, a dedication to and faith in advertising that undoubtedly had a great part to play in Coca-Cola’s rise from these questionable beginnings to becoming the most widely recognised soft drink brand in the world.
Pemberton exhibited a visionary genius for marketing his product that was almost unprecedented. The model set by Coca-Cola’s advertising campaign has been admired and often imitated by every company that has followed.
Its success can be boiled down to a distinctive logo and bottle design, that were so heavily advertised and sent so far across the continent and later the world that they were firmly imprinted in the public consciousness. They became synonymous with American culture and growing pop culture.
The endless array of promotional items that resulted from the brand’s mass merchandising since 1886 has therefore provided a considerable wealth of collectible items.
The worldwide collecting community for Coca-Cola memorabilia is one of the largest in existence. From those that collect the distinctive bottles, to those that splash out on antique advertisements, the interest in the brand and its history is persistent and widespread. There are numerous museums dedicated to the Coca-Cola brand, many of which grew out of private collections.
The fascination can be traced to the powerful iconography surrounding Coca-Cola and its associations, the historical interest in such a successful model of merchandising, and a simple nostalgia for the drink and the adverts that collectors grew up with.
Some examples of Coca-Cola memorabilia include but are in no way limited to:
The earliest examples often feature the popular vaudeville singer Hilda Clark, who became the face of Coca-Cola from 1895 until 1903. The antique advertisements can take the form of:
Promotional items were designed by Coca-Cola to be used in shops and bars that were selling the drink. These are rare, particularly the older examples, as they were not produced for public consumption. The most expensive item of Coca-Cola memorabilia ever sold was a vast marble and alabaster Coca-Cola soda fountain, an entire bar counter, made by Liquid Carbonic for the 1893 Columbian exposition of the Chicago World’s Fair. It sold for $4,475,000 in March 2012. Less hefty items include:
*Annual Coca-Cola calendars. An 1898 calendar sold for $50,000 in September 2011. Later, these began to be produced for public consumption as they were so popular.
Many examples of early merchandise also feature Hilda Clark, who launched her career as the Coca-Cola model on a Coca-Cola serving tray. It is through merchandise that Coca-Cola became so eminently collectible. Items of merchandise have also been produced regularly that tie Coca-Cola to another brand, for example Betty Boop Coca-Cola dolls, which adds another angle of interest and connects multiple collecting communities. While Coca-Cola have produced almost any item of merchandise one could possibly imagine, from buttons, bikinis and marbles to pocket knives, socks and spatulas, some of the most long running and successful examples of Coca-Cola merchandise are:
The product itself
Coca-Cola’s symbolic link to American culture was duly noted by the pop art movement, and the brand was employed ironically or reverently in many works of art from the 1960s onwards. The most obvious example is Andy Warhol. But these Coca-Cola inspired items take us into another area of collecting, and far beyond most people’s price brackets.
A word to the wise
Generally, it is quite easy to date Coca-Cola memorabilia, from the distinctive slogans that varied from year to year: 1904’s Delicious and Refreshing, 1906’s The great national temperance beverage, 1917’s Three million a day, 1925’s Six million a day, 1945’s Coke means Coca-Cola, 1993’s Always Coca-Cola, up to 2012’s Open Happiness.
One thing to be aware of is that a mass American nostalgia boom during the 1970s created a huge amount of reproduction items, Coca-Cola merchandise and homages that emulated the antique and vintage designs, that continue to be produced today. These are not as valuable as genuine early examples.
On a budget
While we have provided several examples of the highest prices Coca-Cola items have fetched at auctions in the past, this is no way representative of the price bracket for coke collectibles in general.
The highest prices at auction go to significant early items of advertising and promotion. Yet it is so easy to obtain wonderful items, including antique and vintage pieces, for a much more affordable pirce. For the one antique advertisement that sells for thousands at auction, there are ten slightly less historically significant, perhaps slightly dog-eared examples, that can be picked up for a fraction of the top prices.
The sheer amount of advertising and merchandise produced, pretty much from the very beginning of the brand, allows for a fruitful breadth of collecting opportunities and really spoils the collector for choice.
In the last year, the world’s largest collection of Coca Cola memorabilia was auctioned off in a two part sale. The Schmidt museum of Coca-Cola memorabilia had some of the most valuable and historically significant Coca-Cola collectibles, which were offered by Richard Opfer Auctioneering in September 2011 and March 2012. This significant sale brought numerous desirable items back into public hands, and spread them around for numerous collectors to enjoy.
The Coca-Cola Collectors Club was founded in 1974, and boasts over 3,500 members worldwide. They host events and swap meets, provide online trading forums and information sharing resources, as well as regular newsletters and a shop offering limited edition collectibles. They have regional chapters all across the United States and Canada, and some now in other countries.
Main article: Coca-Cola collectibles and memorabilia
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