Coke collector doesn’t believe in ‘restoration’


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Collector Ray Kilinski of Orlando, Fla., built this Coca-Cola themed bar and lounge (above) when he bought a new home in 2004. He designed the glass wall specifically to showcase the collectibles. The collection spills over into his back yard, where a tastefully decorated Coke-themed lounge, nicknamed the Bamboo Lounge, is the site of numerous family and neighborhood get-togethers. Photos courtesy Ray Kilinski


I love collecting vintage Coca-Cola memorabilia. I collect for the investment, but, mostly, I collect for the pure enjoyment, the passion. Since Coca-Cola advertised in so many different mediums, there are literally thousands of items out there to collect.

Some collectors specialize in calendars. Others collect tin signs or vending machines. I collect a little of everything. If it catches my eye, chances are it’ll be in my collection. I enjoy it for the beauty of the illustrations, the vibrant colors and also the history.

I wonder who walked by my 1930s Coke sign when it was hanging up in front of some local grocery store. I wonder who leaned against my vending machine back in the ’50s. Every item holds a story. Every items holds historical value.

And unlike a lot of collectors, I don’t mind if my items are scratched or dented a bit. I like things that were actually used for their intended purpose, as opposed
to items that were found stored in a warehouse, in mint, unused condition, or items that have been restored to pristine condition.

I’m a firm believer in not restoring anything. I feel it takes away from the value when you retouch and reapply new decals to a particular item.

My Coca-Cola Room:

I never had a room devoted entirely for my collection. I always had it scattered throughout my home; most of it in storage bins. In 2004, I bought this beautiful home. It had a huge screened-in back porch that I wasn’t really utilizing, so I had it enclosed to display my collection. I designed it to incorporate green glass blocks, similar in color to the old green Coca-Cola bottles.

I also had green frosted-glass shelving installed along the perimeter of the room, track lighting and recessed lighting. And I hired a local carpeting professional to add the Coca-Cola script logo in my carpeting.

Then I purchased a vintage cooler that had been custommade into a sodafountain bar from an elderly gentleman near Tifton, Ga. And I added the familiar black-and-white checkered flooring. Then I decorated. I wanted this room to be organized; so many items were professionally framed. Everything in my room is an original, vintage Coca-Cola item — from my two working-condition 1950s vending machines to my numerous Coca-Cola tin signs, a few of which date back to the 1930s.

My Oldest Item:

I own a 1905 Lillian Nordica full-color magazine ad with a free drink coupon still attached. I also own a 1912 napkin. Some unique items in my collection include a 1930s wooden syrup keg with original paper label. In the ingredients listing, it reads (Cocaine removed). Another item is my baby: an original working Vendo 44 Coke machine in beautiful condition.

I collect a lot of vintage paper items, from old employee newsletters, canceled checks, ink blotters and matchbooks to wax-lined cups, ads, coasters and old photos. Paper items hold a wealth of interesting articles and stories, as well as dating and identifying period advertising items. I also have a collection of vintage serviceman uniforms. I collect mostly anything old from Coca-Cola. Trays, thermometers, picnic coolers, clocks, calendars, cardboard displays, light up signs … you name it.

History of Coca-Cola Company:

The fascination of collecting vintage Coca-Cola memorabilia is rooted in the company’s extensive history of producing advertising premiums in vibrant designs. Coca-Cola started advertising on calendars as early as 1891. Our present-day Santa and how he is portrayed was the work of Coca-Cola.

Illustrator Hadden Sundblum was hired in the 1930s to come up with a friendly, jolly-looking Santa for their holiday advertising campaign. His depiction of Santa Claus is what is still being used to this day.

Aside from Haddon Sundblum, Coca-Cola used numerous illustrators including Norman Rockwell, Gil Elvgren and N.C. Wyeth, to name a few.

Advice for the Novice Collector:

Purchase original, vintage items. Stay away from mass-produced items that are being reproduced today for the collectible market. These items are being produced by the millions and are just flooding the market. If you buy on eBay, do your research. There are a few good price guides and reference books out there with a wealth of information.

Be cautious. There are also a lot of fake, questionable and reproduction items on the market. And with today’s technology of the color copier, it’s easy to reproduce items. If in doubt, ask questions. It all boils down to education and research. A lot of high-end items are selling for thousands of dollars. That shouldn’t deter a new collector. You can still find vintage trays, paper items, calendars, coolers, clocks and magazine ads for under $100. It’s still easy to start a collection.

Want More Information?

Join The Coca-Cola Collectors Club. This is an international organization established in 1974 to promote the preservation and collection of memorabilia related to The Coca-Cola Company. The Coca-Cola Collectors Club is not sponsored by, nor related to, The Coca-Cola Company and is an independent, nonprofit, volunteer-run organization.

Among the benefits of The Coca-Cola Collectors Club:

• Communication with thousands of collectors around the world
• Markets for buying, trading and selling collectibles
• Special merchandise offerings for members
• Monthly newsletter with free classified ads for all members
• Regional and local chapter information
• Annual international and regional conventions

But our Club’s best benefit is the chance you will have to make long-lasting friendships with members who share your interests. Check the our site to learn more about the Club, conventions, the members and more. www.cocacolaclub.org.

More Images:

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Tastefully decorated Coke-themed lounge, nicknamed the Bamboo Lounge.
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Ray Kilinski's collection has some rare items, such as this 1950s Coca-Cola policeman crossing-guard sign with cast iron Coca-Cola base, valued at more than $2,500.
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Custom Coca-Cola logo carpeting.
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Coca-Cola themed bar and lounge.
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Coca-Cola themed bar and lounge.

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