published Friday, November 8th, 2013

Coke is it: Is your Coke collectible the real thing? Find out at the Choo Choo on Saturday

Linda Prabish's kitchen is decorated with Coca-Cola memorabilia.
Linda Prabish's kitchen is decorated with Coca-Cola memorabilia.
Photo by Tim Barber.
  • photo
    Labron Meadows favorite piece of Coca-Cola memorabilia in his 2,000-item collection is a metal match pull from the 1930s.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

If You Go

What: Coca-Cola Memorabilia Swap Meet and Appraisal.

When: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Chattanooga Choo Choo, Roosevelt Room, 1400 Market St.

Admission: Free.

Guide-lines: No more than two items may be brought for appraisal by members of the Coca-Cola Collectors Club.

Linda Prabish

Occupation: Retired professional photographer

Began collecting: 1980

What hooked her: "My favorite color is red. My first piece was Coke desk accessories for my office. I've always tried to collect items I can actually use."

Size of collection: About 1,000 pieces displayed in three rooms of her house: a Coca-Cola-decorated kitchen, a functional ice cream parlor downstairs in her home and a 7-1/2-foot-tall, Coca-Cola-themed Christmas tree she leaves up year-round. "My husband said if we ever moved and had to take all the trays off the downstairs walls, the room would whistle."

Most unusual piece: A Coke slot machine that is operational and uses tokens, not coins.

Most prized: A 1970 Coke vending machine. "When we opened it up, we found it had been in LaFayette High School. It is a nickel machine and is operational. We keep it stocked with Cherry Coke, Diet Coke and Dr Pepper."

George Gilghrist

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."

Labron Meadows

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.

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 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 spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

about Susan Pierce...

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 ...

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