One of the most accessible and affordable categories of Coca-Cola collectibles is the fascinating array of promotional pieces that the Company and its bottlers have given to schoolchildren and teachers during the past century.
The collectible items include rulers, pencils - both mechanical and wooden - pencil sharpeners, tablets, book covers and ink blotters. They were produced in enormous quantities, are readily available and in most cases are relatively inexpensive.
Many of the products given away to schools and students were produced by the Company and distributed by bottlers. Often, the bottler's name will be stamped on the piece. The value may be higher if the item is dated.
The Golden Rule
Probably the single most common school item is the socalled "Golden Rule Ruler," with the golden rule - "Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You" - printed on the back. Millions were given away. Petretti's Coca-Cola Collectibles Price Guide (11th Edition) values it at $1. But the price doubles to $2 if the ruler is dated, and a "Golden Rule" yardstick is valued at $15.
And, as in all categories of Coca-Cola collectibles, there are still some valuable pieces in the market.
A contour-bottle-shaped pencil sharpener from the 1930s is valued at $35 in Petretti's guide. But a full box of 12 of the sharpeners is estimated to bring $500.
Many of the school items were given to children at the end of the traditional tour of the local Coca-Cola bottling plant, which was a part of the curriculum in many American schools. Of course, the youngsters also got a cold Coke to drink along with the pr actical educational gift.
These bottling plant tours remain a fond memory for many people. I still hear from adults who share their stories of watching Coca-Cola bottles being filled on their town's own assembly line. Many of them kept the promotional giveaways as keepsakes. These tours are still active programs throughout the Coca-Cola system.
One of the earliest items that Coca-Cola bottlers distributed to students were ink blotters. Of course, schoolchildren today have no idea what an ink blotter is. Back in the days when fountain pens were widely used in schools, blotters - pieces or pads of absorbent paper - were used to soak up excess ink used for penmanship exercises. Petretti's guide displays a 1920 blotter from Oklahoma for $400.
Book Covers & More
An enormous range of book covers is also available. Petretti's guide features book covers ranging in value from $3 to $12.
In the 1920s, The Coca-Cola Company produced wild flower and nature study cards, similar to baseball cards, which could be used as part of a science or nature study curriculum to help children learn to identify trees, aquatic life and "Man's Closet Friends and Most Inveterate Enemies."
Because these card sets are common, they do not bring high prices. Petretti's guide prices a complete set of 20 wild flower cards from 1923 in the original envelope at $75. A complete set of 96 Nature Study cards in the original box is priced at $60.
In 1932, the Company produced a Famous Doctors Series, from Hippocrates to Louis Pasteur to Walter Reed. These were larger than the nature cards, and could be hung on the classroom wall for instructional purposes. A complete set of six paper folders is priced at $250 in Petretti's guide.
In the mid-1940s, the Company produced the "Our America" series featuring 11 different industries, including cotton, oil, steel, transportation and motion pictures. Petretti's guide prices a complete "Our America" teacher's kit in the original envelope at $50. The series was accompanied with posters that can bring $18 each.
To The Moon & Beyond
In 1969, the Company produced a poster and record commemorating the "Trip to the Moon." In the 1970s, the Company distributed science and ecology kits, as well as a box set of "Black Guardians of Freedom." The "Guardians" kits contained an audio-visual presentation of the contributions of African Americans to American culture. These kit s were supplemented by "Golden Legacy," a series of 11 illustrated comic books on the lives of prominent black leaders, including Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Joseph Cinque. The final "Golden Legacy" volume was "Men of Action," profiling NAACP leaders and jurists.
These items were distributed in large quantities that keep the price down in this collectibles category. All of these school items were colorful and interesting, so children and their parents tended to keep them. Because of their availability and cost, I often recommend educational materials as an easy way to get started in the Coca-Cola collecting world, especially for teachers and others with an appreciation for the field of education.
More on Journey
- Honoring a Native Son: Coca-Cola Exhibit, Panel Pay Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and His Nobel Peace Prize
- Video: A Day in the Life of Coke's In-House Art Curator
- Coca-Cola Salesman's Career in Mississippi Started During Civil Rights Movement
- From One Fan to Another: The Story Behind Unbox Therapy's Coca-Cola Cooler
- A Slice of Coca-Cola History: Beloved Kentucky Bottling Plant Reborn as Mellow Mushroom Pizzeria