KGO-TV Channel 7 Story |
The Bay Area as a center of culture. We have some of the great museums of the world. In most cases, you've already heard about them. But as Channel 7's Wayne Freeman shows us tonight, there is one that continues to remain fairly obscure.
KRON-TV Channel 4
"The Bay Area boasts a plethera of museums all filled with
semi priceless works of art. So many museums in fact that it seems
there is something for everybody.
The Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 am to 7 pm, and Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm. Admission is free.
GOOD MORNING AMERICA
with Judd Rose
As baby boomers reach middle age, many of the things they grew up with
have become museum pieces.
by Douglas Balz
In this suburb about 20 miles south of San Francisco, a couple of doors down from a Honda dealership, is the world's only Pez museum, concealed in a computer store.
Actually, it was a computer store until 18 months ago, when Gary Doss realized that his collection of Pez dispensers was more than a trivial pursuit. It was a way of life. Goodbye computers; hello Pez.
If you step inside the shop, it looks like anything but a museum. In fact, it looks like a gift shop, where every shelf and display rack is stuffed with Pez stuff. Gift shops are major profit centers at museums. They're getting bigger and bigger all the time. But this may be the only place where the gift shop is bigger than the museum.
In case there is anyone alive who doesn't know, Pez is a line of candy dispensers. In the world of fashionable breath mints like Altoids and Tic Tacs, Pez got there first. All the way back in the 1920s. The pepper mint-flavored candies (Pez is an abbreviation of the German word for peppermint, Pfefferminz) were sold in little boxes. They were manufactured for adults.
Then during World War II, the company started selling dispensers. The basic Pez dispenser is a small, utilitarian piece of plastic. It looks a lot like a disposable lighter, except that when you flip the top, instead of a flame, out comes a piece of candy. But someone at the company came up with the idea of selling to kids. (Historians, please note: There are holes in the Pez story, but unlike a competitor, not in Pez candy). Kids were the inspiration for the little plastic heads. Kids are what makes Pez collectible.
The first one was Mickey Mouse, with a painted face, one of the few prepared that way. By the early '50s, Pez had moved into the playgrounds of America. Every year, several new heads were manufactured, which means that by now there are 350-400 differently capped Pez dispensers. (Even at the museum, the exact count is unclear.) Most of the designs have been taken out of service, but at the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia, they are immortal.
Like all great collections, the one in Burlingame started small -- in the checkout line at a local supermarket, to be precise. Gary Doss, the museum's curator, was in the line for customers with nine or fewer items. His wife Nancy spotted a Woodstock Pez and wanted to buy it. But he didn't; one more item and the couple would have had to move to another checkout line. Feeling guilty, he later returned to the store, but Woodstock was gone. So he bought a Snoopy Pez instead, which Nancy put on her office desk. Soon, customers brought in a few more, and as one Pez led to another, the crowded desktop became a collection.
Most Pez are sold in drug stores and supermarkets to people far younger than Doss' wife. Children from 3 to 12 love them, beg their parents for a dispenser and often get their way. A Pez, candy included, is only a buck or a buck and a half.
But where once Pez was only for kids, now it has a hold on their parents too. Baby Boomers, who buy the things because they represent a piece of their childhood, have created a market for Pez collectibles. They go to Pez conventions; they surf Pez sites on the Web; they spot Pez dispensers on television and in movies ("The Client" and "Toy Story," to name just two).
None of this should be surprising. If it happened to Barbie and G.I. Joe, it can happen to Pez too.
Gary Doss estimates his collection of about 350 dispensers is worth around $30,000. And that's at prices that pertained several years ago, before $20 dispensers started selling for $200. Doss estimates that to put together a great collection today, it would take $50,000 or more.
"But that's for everything," he is quick to point out. What he means is that it is entirely feasible to put together a complete collection. There may be gaps in the official Pez history, but not in the collection. Every Pez ever made is available, for a price.
Mary Poppins is about $1,300 (the asking price on a Web site). Zorro and Captain Hook are about $110 apiece. The Luv Pez, a strange psychedelic dispenser produced in 1968 that features an open hand holding an eyeball, is worth about $800. Those are serious prices, for serious collectors.
But for anyone interested in starting a Pez collection, Doss has a sensible strategy. Begin with dispensers available in stores. There are about 80 of them, and they cost less than $2 apiece.
The next step is to buy imported dispensers. Pez dispensers are made abroad (the company's headquarters is Traun, Austria). The candy is made in Connecticut, where the packaging is done. Collectors can get the imported dispensers for $5 or so.
The last stage is to collect discontinued models. Many are available for $30 or less.
The most expensive Pez dispenser was on the shelves for only a few months. It was similar to a Mr. Potato Head, a blank countenance with lots of parts (eyebrows, noses, mouths, ears, eyes), allowing buyers to create their own face. But the company realized that all those tiny facial parts could be hazardous to the primary market, children under 12. So, the do-it-yourself Pez face was yanked, which is why it goes for at least $5,000 today -- a Pez worth a mint.
That particular dispenser is missing from the Burlingame museum, but the first Pez dispenser ever made (no matter which of the three candidates it was) is there, as are hundreds more, including every version ever issued of Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse. There they stand, surrounded by hundreds like them, standing tall in a display case that once was used to sell toothbrushes.
On a nearby wall are autographed dispensers from Lynda Carter (for the Wonder Woman Pez) and Jim Davis (for the Garfield Pez). Nearby sit two Pez ornaments from Hallmark (Santa for $24.95, a snowman for $19.95). Then there's the battery-operated Power Pez (it looks like a birth-control pill dispenser) for $6.
"Seinfeld" anointed Pez by featuring a Tweety Bird dispenser in one episode. The Tonight Show created a gag gift Pez in the shape of Washington talking head John McLaughlin. And Tribune columnist John Kass wondered in print whether President Clinton, after the Monica Lewinsky story made the papers, was anything more than "a Pez dispenser for government programs."(Pezident Clinton?) Pez isn't just a collectible; it may be, heaven help us, a contemporary icon.
For Gary Doss, the meaning is simple. Even in the heart of Silicon Valley the little dispenser has enough clout to dispense with one computer store.
Pez: a toy story for our times.
2. What is the most requested Pez character the company has never made?
3. Can you buy kosher Pez?
4. How many Pez characters are based on real people: 2, 20 or 200?
5. Who are they?
6. I want to collect Pez. Are there any books available?
7. Is there an Elvis Pez?
8. What do they call the head of the Connecticut company that makes Pez candy? 9. Where is the next big Pez convention?
10. How much was spent for Pez candy in the 12 months that ended in March?
(See answers below.)
1. Winnie the Pooh. 2. Any of the characters from the television show, "The Simpsons." 3. Yes. 4. Two. 5. Betsy Ross and Daniel Boone. 6. Yes: "Pez Collectibles" by Richard Geary (Schiffer Publishing); and "Collecting Pez" by David Welch (Bubba Scrubba Publications). 7. Yes, Elvis Pezley was created for the movie "The Client" and never sold commercially. 8. The Pezident. 9. St. Louis, on June 12-13, at the Airport Hilton; phone 314-416-0333. 10. $23.4 million, an increase of almost 16 percent from the previous year.