published Saturday, July 5th, 2014

A Coke (or lots of Cokes) and a smile: Linda Prabish's Coca-Cola collection puts the fun in functional

Linda and Ben Prabish turned half of the basement of their Hixson home into a Coca-Cola parlor.
Linda and Ben Prabish turned half of the basement of their Hixson home into a Coca-Cola parlor.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

Linda Prabish started collecting Coca-Cola memorabilia in the late 1970s just because she liked the color red.

Now red is the dominant design element in her home's decor, with about 2,000 pieces of red-and-white Coke Americana spread throughout her house. Combine that with husband Ben's collection of World War II and railroad memorabilia and there's no lack of conversation starters on a visit to their Hixson home.

"If we had to move, there would be a convoy of moving vans out front," jokes Ben.

Linda says she looks for functional pieces when buying or swapping Coke collectibles, although her acquisitions range in size from tiny plastic cases of doll-size green bottles that could fit in the palm of your hand to free-standing, operational vending machines.

"If you can't use it, I don't want it," she explains, pointing to the design of her kitchen, where everything is functional.

Spanning the walls and filling cabinet shelves, metal Coke serving trays are decorated in portraits of Santas or females wearing vintage attire. A red-and-white table runner with the Coke logo crosses the island countertop. Canisters, oven mitts, a bread box, recipe box, refrigerator magnets, numerous cookie jars, a glass straw holder, napkin dispensers -- even the laundry basket -- all bear the familiar logo. Guests dine on white china embossed with the Coca-Cola name, drink from soda parlor-style Coke glassware and eat from Coke-labeled utensils.

  • photo
    An old-fashioned, wooden root beer and soda dispenser, above, was found in Sugar Grove, Ill.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

On the back of the house, Linda, a professional photographer and painter, has her studio. Glass walls on three sides of the room fill it with natural lighting. Plenty of her Coke collection inspires creativity.

An antique Coke bottle rack holds her art pencils. Bottle crates have been turned into shelves to hold Beanie Babies. Five Coke polar bears are nestled into a round wooden cooler. Signs decorate the walls; innumerable knickknacks are displayed.

Downstairs, the Prabishes built a soda parlor into one half of their basement playroom. It's a complete setup with counter and bar stools, Coca-Cola glasses filling shelves, vintage beverage dispensers, a booth, one table set that includes four logo-imprinted chairs, an old-fashioned jukebox and a vending machine. Sixty metal advertising trays decorate the walls above the booth alone, with more hung around the rest of the basement.

Interesting collectibles include her Coca-Cola-themed Barbies -- "I've got them all!" -- and a Diet Coke golf bag with clubs. A 5-foot, free-standing, plastic replica of a twist-cap bottle is made to be filled with ice and used as a cooler. There are red-and-white Coca-Cola lights, pillows and throws.

And, of course, there is holiday memorabilia, such as a red satin Coke can Halloween costume and several Santas mixed with holiday ornaments. A Coca-Cola themed Christmas tree stands near a window.

Having such an interesting drink collection is just too much fun to keep bottled up. Last weekend, the Prabishes hosted members of the Choo Choo chapter of the Coca Cola Collectors Club for a cookout.

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    The downstairs soda parlor has a Coke-themed jukebox, menu board, 60 serving trays decorating walls, a coin-operated telephone, straw and napkin dispensers and soda glasses etched with Coke logos.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

"This is the first time I've seen the collection," said John Waddell of Cedartown, Ga., stopping to answer his cellphone when it chirped a Coca-Cola advertising jingle. "The way they've got it displayed looks good."

George Gilchrist was buying one of Linda's vending machines for a old-fashioned tableau he's designing at his home. The machine was salvaged from LaFayette High School in LaFayette, Ga., and still dispenses drinks for a nickel.

"I have a garage that I've built to look like an old-time garage. I've put an old Mobile gas pump out in front of it and I want a Coke machine that lights up. I'm using it as a nightlight," the collector explained.

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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