By Elizabeth Wright. Elizabeth has been involved with The Coca-Cola Collectors Club since 1980; she is a district representative for the Club and is past publications director.

The roots of Barq's Root Beer go back to 1898 on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, when the beverage was created by a sugar chemist. The company remained in the hands of the Barq family until 1976. By the time The Coca-Cola Company purchased it in 1995, Barq's was the second largest root beer company in the United States. The purchase was very significant since it marked the first time that Coca-Cola has bought a U.S.-based carbonated beverage.

Barq's became well known for its marketing campaigns, especially those connecting Barq's with Halloween. Another campaign had the catchy name "Stink-N-Stare 3-D."

And then of course in 1992 (before The Coca-Cola Company bought Barq's) there was the "Soviet Union Going Out of Business" promotion. During the time of this promotion, Barq's received over 70,000 requests for redemptions.

The chairman of the board of Barq's at the time advised bottlers that the "Going Out of Business" promotion was going to be "the mother of all value-added promotions" and his message was accompanied by a "National Certificate of Honor" and a May Day flag. Television ads urged customers to "quit Stalin around and get some Barq's." A Barq's "Private Reserve Collection -- Soviet Stuff" catalog was also available. Items included in this catalog ranged from Soviet medals to military berets to a military dress coat to sets of Matryoshka dolls. These dolls -- pronounced "ma-troosh-ka" -- were both the traditional dolls as well as a political set featuring Yeltsin, Gorbachev, Stalin, Lenin and Kryschev. Instant prizes were also available in some 12 packs, if they contained a "false-top" prize can. (These cans had an extra lid on them, identifying a winner.) 

It was in the spirit of these types of campaigns that the "Psychic Fish" promotion was launched in 1996, after Barq's had joined Coca-Cola. The Psychic Fish (aka: cellophane fish) were inside 12-packs and carried fortunes such as "Love will find you, even if you're hiding" and "You're smarter than your friends think." 1996 also saw the "Dead Giveaway" promotion that gave the winner a chance to star as a dead person in a horror movie.

For collectors, "Soviet Stuff" and other Barq's promotions are a great way to build a collection -- and a very unusual collection at that!