I make no apologies for being a "big kid" at heart. I have always loved toys of all kinds, but it was a Coke toy that was the catalyst that sparked our interest in collecting Coca-Cola memorabilia.
Sherren and I were junking at an Atlanta antiques show back in 1992, and at one booth I saw an old battery operated yellow and white 1957 Coca-Cola route truck. It sure brought back memories, and I told Sherren how I had gotten one for a Christmas gift back in 1957, and I wished I still had it -- especially after I saw the price the dealer was asking for his. Imagine my shock when Sherren said I did have one -- because it seems her late mother had kept many of the toys that Sherren and her brother had played with, and that they were stored in the attic at her mother's home. We sort of rushed home, and I immediately went into the attic and sure enough, there in a big cardboard box, among other toys, was a very nice 1957 route truck. From that point on, we started collecting Coca-Cola memorabilia, and needless to say that truck is my most prized piece in our modest but growing collection.
After that, I began to look especially for Coca-Cola toys and games. A search of Petretti's Coca-Cola Collectibles Price Guide will show many pages of toys and games, and while I would like to have them all, I don't think I will ever achieve that goal, but I will certainly give it a try.
Many toys and games featured The Coca-Cola Company's advertising, such as dolls, trucks, bikes, scooters, trains, and some were actually aimed more at adults -- playing cards, board games, etc. Without a doubt, my favorites are the games produced for Coke by the Milton Bradley Company, in the 1940s and 1950s. At that time, these were referred to as the red box games, obviously given that unofficial name because of the color of the game box.
And here is a little bit of trivia about Milton Bradley, the man credited by many with launching the game industry in North America. He was born in Maine in 1836, and originally was a printer and lithographer. In 1860, he achieved success with a lithograph of Abraham Lincoln -- a clean shaven Lincoln. It sold well, until Honest Abe grew a beard, and thus rendered Bradley's lithograph out-of-date. As his lithograph business began to fail, he visited a friend who challenged him to a game. There is no record of the name of the game but it was probably a European game that featured a board and a spinner to determine how many spaces a player moves. Filled with inspiration, Bradley was moved to invent a game. He called it the Checkered Game of Life. The object was to obtain a happy old age instead of financial ruin, and used a spinner and moved game pieces over a board. By 1861, he had sold more than 45,000 copies of his game, and formed Milton Bradley and Company, which grew to become the number one maker of games in the world.
The Coca-Cola Milton Bradley games featured the Coke logo on the red box and usually prominently on the games themselves. The games are:
Broadsides, a book of tear off sheets. It is a game of naval strategy (a precursor of the present day Battleship).
Tic-Tac-Toe features a wooden board with wooden bottles as the playing pieces. One set of the bottles is brown representing full bottles of Coke and the other is green representing empty bottles.
15 Puzzle features 16 wooden blocks, one of which shows the Coke Trademark and is not used in playing the game. The object is to scramble the remaining 15 blocks, place them back in the box and move them around in the box without lifting them, to spell out "Ice Cold Coca-Cola".
Horse Race Game is played by rolling dice and moving plastic race horse figures toward the finish line on a rectangular playing board.
India (Parcheesi) has a beautiful board featuring the elf-like character Sprite® Boy. Dice are rolled to determine movement of the playing pieces.
Anagrams and Letters has small wooden tablets with a Coke bottle on one side and a letter on the other. Letters are drawn at random and used to form words.
Table Tennis set includes a net and brackets, ping pong balls and four ping pong paddles with "Drink Coca-Cola" etched on the handles.
Darts - There are two different sets of darts, and each set has three darts. One set is regular darts and the other is suction cup darts. The Coca-Cola logo in only on the boxes; the darts do not contain any logo. These are to be used with the Coca-Cola dart boards.
Tower of Hannoi is a puzzle from the celestial in which the base has three pegs. There are eight discs of various sizes on one of the pegs and must be transferred from that peg to one of the other pegs by moving one disc at a time and never putting a larger disc on a smaller disc.
Checkers contains wooden pieces that say "Drink Coca-Cola" on each piece. The checkers can be red and black or tan and black.
Dominoes where each of the wooden dominoes has a Coke bottle on the back side.
Bingo set includes bingo cards, playing pieces and wooden number counters. Each card has a "Drink Coca-Cola" disk printed in the free space.
Checkers and Dice for Backgammon features a combination small scale game board with the Coke logo around the edge of the board. The playing pieces do not have the logo, but the box says "Compliments of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company".
Checkers/Acey-Ducey/Backgammon game set includes wooden checkers, playing pieces and game board.
Game Sets - There are two sets:
1) Dominoes with the Coke Bottle on the back; wooden checkers with "Drink Coca-Cola" on each piece; two decks of Coca-Cola playing cards; unmarked chess pieces; and unmarked Chinese Checker marbles.
2) Wooden checkers; wooden dominoes; Cribbage board with "Drink Coca-Cola" and "Delicious and Refreshing" on the board with the pegs inside; two decks of Coca-Cola playing cards; and six Bridge score pads featuring Coke art work on the cover.
Jigsaw Puzzles - There are four different puzzles that also come in the "red" boxes. They are:
) Crossing the Equator
2) Halloween Party
3) Teenage Party
4) Hawaiian Beach
Winko Baseball features playing pieces and a board that resembles a baseball field.
Sprite Boy jigsaw puzzle.
Ring Toss Game where rope-like rings are thrown over upright pegs.
Wall Quoits where small round rings are thrown over hooks on a wooden playing board that features the Sprite Boy image.
These games were distributed to schools, churches, clubs, hospitals and to military both at home and overseas. These games are valuable and hard to find in good condition. I have gotten most of mine on eBay because I just could not find them at our Collectors Club conventions. A set including a dart board, table tennis set, bingo set, Chinese checker board, checker board, dominoes, playing cards, chessmen, checkers, marbles for Chinese checkers, and dice all together originally sold to the Coca-Cola bottlers in 1942 for $3.57! Needless to say, they cost a lot more than that today. Depending on condition, a Milton Bradley Winko baseball game can be worth more than $250, and a horse race game can bring in $375, according to Petretti's guide.
Toys and games will always be favored by many Coke collectors. They bring back memories of our youth, but maybe they just make us feel younger. And to top it off, they are just plain fun -- ask my wife as she plays with my Tower of Hannoi game!
Collectors since 1992, Michael and wife Sherren have been active members of the Coca-Cola Collectors Club for more than 10 years. Michael is on the board of the Club's Atlanta Chapter.
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