This Collectors Column describes the first World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, which closed in April 2007. Our new WOCC features new memorabilia representing our history.
We've all read plenty of "tourist"-type articles about the Coke museum in Atlanta. The World of Coca-Cola is very successful and one of Atlanta's best tourist attractions. Coca-Cola Collectors Club members line up at their doors during the Springtime in Atlanta convention, and locals enjoy the tree lighting ceremony and the many other events held throughout the year. This time let's take a look at just a few of the great items on display in what my boss called, after his visit to the WOCC, the "Mecca of Coca-Cola collecting."
I took my time at each display and tried to find some of the items that I had missed from earlier visits. I wanted to highlight these items as well as some of the "biggies." The "biggies" being those items that Coca-Cola collectors should not miss. I'm drawn to items from the 1940s and I love foreign items, so there are plenty of things that I'm interested in, and I'm sure you'll find other favorites during your visit. One thing you should do is take your time. There's no rush to get through and you'll be surprised at the depth of the collection. When I say depth, I mean that in a couple of ways. Yes it's an incredible assortment of all types of Coca-Cola items from throughout the company's long history, but the displays are also deep. You can easily miss a great item in the display cases as five or 10 great items may be displayed in the same small area. Check out the area behind that can, sign or tray you're looking at. There just may be an early 1900s trolley sign being used as a background.
So let's take a look at just a few of the items that I found. The first display was just full of great really early pieces -- a real treat for both new collectors and those who have been at it for far longer than I have. Many of these pieces will only be seen here. Anything from the early Atlanta days of Coke is hard to find and those days are well represented in this case. The half page ad from Asa Candler touting his new product "The Wonderful Nerve and Brain Tonic and Remarkable Therapeutic Agent Coca-Cola" is in mint condition. You've got to wonder why that slogan never caught on! We're really fortunate that history like this has survived.
One of the earliest calendars known to exist, the 1891 DE-LEC-TA-LAVE & Coca- Cola calendar, from Asa C. Candler & Co. is also on display in the first showcase. Here's one of your few chances to see this calendar live. I had only seen this one in books before the WOCC opened.
I was lucky enough to hear two Club members give a talk highlighting Coca-Cola change purses and wallets at one of our local meetings. Since that seminar I'm always looking for older and interesting versions. The WOCC has three of the best on display in the first showcase -- one early change purse and two different ones using the straight-sided bottle for decoration. Don't miss these small rare items. True Coca-Cola collectors should take the time to really explore these displays.
I spoke earlier about trolley signs. If you want to see some fine examples, just check out the first few cases. There are at least five or six great examples on display. The same can be said for festoons. I don't know about you, but I'd love to own as many festoons as I could. Unfortunately there's not enough room in my home to display more than one or two. OK, there's more room but the chances of getting my wife to allow me to line every border in my home with festoons is slim to none. The folks at the WOCC have plenty of space and no spouses to contend with, so festoons are displayed proudly throughout the museum. One of the festoon highlights for me is the festoon with each piece being a single letter spelling out the words Coca-Cola. I'd be happy just to own the centerpiece.
There's an early set of dice embossed with the Coca-Cola logo in these cases as well. Here's an example of an item that has most likely been on display since WOCC opened, but I've passed it by 10 times with hardly a glace. It's far too easy to miss a great item here.
Now with all of this I've barely made it out of the first few cases. In an effort to keep this from becoming a column that's too long to read, I'll just jump around the building and send you to see a few more items. When you get there and really look around, it's hard to pick out the cream of the crop. It's all good.
Can collectors will get to see examples in pristine condition. Don't miss the two cone-top cans. The 16- and 32-ounce cans were packaged "specially for use at home and on outings." Displayed in the background of a series of items from the 40s is a great wartime "Share-Fair Plan" sign. This cardboard gives the dealers' pledge to give every customer an equal opportunity to buy rationed items at a fair price "to help win the war." Items like this were in short supply at the time, and are even harder to find today.
A leaded glass bottle and a round leaded glass light are on display as well. If you've followed auctions lately, you've just seen the round version sell for an astronomical price. Here's a chance to get a good look at one close-up. The bottle is a bit harder to find. (Here's a hint - look up.) The large glass bottle sits on top of one display glass shining proudly, not looking 80 years old at all.
Santa collectors will not be disappointed. Santa can be found on quite a few different items in each area. My personal favorites are the "Thirst knows no season" bottle topper made for the large display bottle, the large die cut 3-D image of Santa removing his tired face while enjoying a glass of Coke, the great carton wrap featuring Santa and the tall paper banner with Santa offering a cold bottle of Coca-Cola from the center of a Christmas wreath. The bottle topper uses a great pre-Sundblom [artist Haddon Sundblom] image of Santa that you just can't find on many items.
If I've got to pick a favorite item in this building of favorites, you might be surprised at just how easy it is for me. Sure I'd love to have just a fraction of these items in my home, and I'd have a great collection with just that fraction, but there is one item that stands out for me. It's the black match dispenser on display in the soda fountain. I'm not sure why this item has always attracted my attention, but it has from my first visit to the World of Coca-Cola. It's such an unusual item with its art deco design and use of black and white rather than the usual red and white colors. It has that slick look of the streamlined machines and is just a great piece. It wouldn't take up the space of a festoon or machine and would look great on any shelf. On my first trip to WOCC, I took quite a few photos of this one and was every bit as interested in it just a few months ago.
Speaking of big machines that take up lots of room, you'll have a great chance to see an early Mills machine in mint condition on display here as well. You really don't see many Mills machines at all, and this one is a fine example. While we're on machines, you don't have to look far back in the history of The Coca-Cola Company to find an extremely rare machine. Let's go back to 1985. Many collectors have the Coca-Cola space can in their collection, but how many of us have the actual dispenser used in space? That's right; you can see the dispenser used to top off those space cans just a few feet away from the Mills. I haven't even scratched the surface of the collection or the building itself.
I haven't covered the bottling operation that greets you at the entrance of the museum. I didn't cover the movies, the commercials or the many interactive displays. I didn't go into the great collection of foreign items. I didn't even mention the fountain where soda shoots across the room or where you have the chance to sample Coke products from around the world. What about the store where our members have been known to spend their entire visit, skipping the museum completely? Well I can't cover it all and, after all, that's what this article was about. There's so much to see and do here, don't miss the great items covering every inch of this exhibit. Take your time and search out those items that you may only see here. Definitely make this one of your "can't miss" stops during your visit to Atlanta.
Bill Combs has been collector since 1986 and is a former president and vice president of The Coca-Cola Collectors Club.
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