DENVER—In 1974 an ad in Antique Trader magazine launched a 35 year tradition for hundreds of Coca-Cola collectors. That’s when collector Bob Buffaloe took a gamble on his hunch that there were more people who felt the red and while Spenserian script meant more than just a brand on a can.
The Coca-Cola Collectors Club was born.
This year members will gather in Denver June 28-July 4 in the Hyatt Regency Tech Center, 7800 East Tufts Avenue, Denver. The annual convention regularly transforms hallways of hotel rooms into mini “Coca-Cola stores” where attendees may buy and sell collectibles. The history of the world’s most well-known product will be represented in collections including everything from current promotional items to calendars, signs and advertising displays dating back to 1886.
“I save my money all year long to buy certain things,” Hilda King, the club’s publications director told Antique Trader magazine. “We are continually getting applications daily. We will certainly hit 1,000 [participants] and we have people coming from Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Australia.”
There is no shortage of material to buy, sell or trade at this convention. Coca-Cola is regarded as one of the original pioneers in marketing and advertising and the quantity and quality of items produced to promote the brand is staggering. Premiums and giveaways were one of the preferred methods Coca-Cola used to sell its soft drinks. Calendars, trays, glasses were given to consumers and soda fountain owners were given ceramic syrup urns based on how much syrup they sold.
Another marketing method Coke used was hiring top artists of the era to produce culture-defining marketing campaigns. Artists with names such as Rockwell, Sundblom, Elvgren and Wyeth created works of art that became major pieces of American history and define, among other things, the image of Santa Clause as we know it today, King said.
As Coca-Cola increased the number of items featuring its logo, interest between drink lovers and collectors increased.
Until 1975, the year of the club’s first meeting, collectors could only meet at special swap meets in Memphis, Tenn., to talk Coke. As collecting became a serious hobby, Coca-Cola supported its fans by releasing a series of reproductions of earlier advertising trays. That helped spark a rise in nostalgia and fuel talk of a formal club to support the hobby.
Today this organization is still run by its members. The club publishes a monthly newsletter and its local chapters sponsor regular meetings and events throughout the country.
Annual conventions are full of activities for both veterans and novice collectors. Room-hopping is an unique tradition which allows members to roam the halls between scheduled events. Other highlights are silent and regular auctions, seminars, banquets, the trading center and the club store. Younger collectors participate in a scavenger hunt.
“I’ve seen things sell for a few dollars and I’ve seen them go for thousands of dollars,” said Dennis Bardin, one of the event’s organizers.
Most events are restricted to club members; however a large swap meet is free to the public. The swap meet is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 4. Several experts are available for appraisals.