IF YOU GO:
* What: Coca-Cola
Meet and Appraisal
* When: 11 a.m.-2
p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9
* Where: Chattanooga
Room, 1400 Market
* Admission: Free;
no more than two
items per person for
Collectors of Coca-Cola memorabilia have more than a thirst for items emblazoned in the iconic red-and-white script.
It’s an obsession.
“We search estate sales and yard sales looking for items. We try to keep tabs on where sales are in the area. Sometimes a member just gets a call from someone who tells them ‘I know someone …,’” describes George Gilghrist, president of the Choo Choo chapter of the Coca-Cola Collectors Club.
Gilghrist’s own collection started 20 years ago with a bottle he discovered at a flea market. Now he has a specially designated Coca-Cola Room in his house filled with 1,800 bottles as well as trays, signs and more.
Seventy-five Coca-Cola collectors from four Southeastern states are gathered at the Chattanooga Choo Choo this weekend for their biennial show-and-tell, the Choo Choo Connection, hosted by the local chapter’s members. Chattanooga’s history as hometown of the world’s first Coca-Cola bottling company makes this event particularly attractive to collectors hoping to add new finds.
On Saturday morning, the collectors will open the doors of their swap meet to the public. Visitors may bring two items in for appraisal and check out the large array of members’ collectibles.
“We get a combination of people who just want to know the value of their items, others are wanting to sell,” says Gilghrist. “We’ve found some nice pieces people are willing to part with, and we’ve disappointed some others.”
The Coke aficionado says the general public seems to believe “if it says ‘Coca-Cola,’ it’s worth a lot of money.” Then they are disappointed to learn their collectible is reproduction.”
Contact Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.
Occupation: Retired from Ford Motor Co., Research and Engineering Center, Dearborn, Mich. He and wife, Linda, are co-chairing the Choo Choo Connection with Labron and Helen Meadows.
Began collecting: 1993
What hooked him: Found an old, embossed, Coca-Cola bottle at a flea market that had been manufactured in the city where he was born, Wyandotte, Mich. It was the first in a bottle collection that has grown to 1,800 bottles representing 900 cities.
Size of collection: More than 2,000 pieces including signs, trays, variety of collectibles, all displayed in “The Coca-Cola Room” in his home.
Most unusual piece: Fishtail signs made in the 1950s and ’60s. “They are called that because they have a red background and the end is cut something like the tail of a fish.”
Most prized: “The first nice piece of Coca-Cola I purchased: a flange sign that is double-sided. It’s a fishtail sign that says ‘Drink Coca-Cola’ in the middle of the fishtail. It’s the first real sign I purchased attending my first national convention.”
Occupation: Retired from Alstom Power
Began collecting: 1991
What hooked him: “My stepfather started collecting bottles and my interest grew from his. I started out collecting commemorative bottles and I have 1,500 of them.”
Size of collection: About 2,500 items, including a Coke vending machine made locally at the former Cavalier plant on Central Avenue, which Meadows restored and made operational over six months.
Most unusual piece: A 1930s metal match pull, which he purchased for $500 from a woman in Scottsboro, Ala. “Back then, matches were laid upside down in these metal boxes, so that when you pulled out a match, it would strike.”
Most prized: A Ty Cobb 2 commemorative bottle, custom made for a Georgia Masonic Lodge, which he bought for $800. The bottle is the second of three Cobb bottles that were produced by Coca-Cola.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...