PEZ museum pops up in Pennsylvania
EASTON, Pennsylvania (AP) —Only about a yardstick high, Andrew O’Toole dashes back and forth with a fiery energy, shouting the names of his favorite superheros.
“Spider-Man! A Ninja Turtle! … Batman!” he cries, his father shuffling alongside him.
Andrew is stalking every corner of the recently opened Easton Museum of PEZ, a cotton-candy colored world of PEZ products that can captivate young and old alike.
The museum is just paces away from The Crayola Factory, another childhood playground where kids learn how crayons are made.
Some 1,500 PEZ dispensers, all nestled in creative landscapes, fill the museum.
Disney PEZ sit in a 10-foot-high castle. Halloween-themed PEZ are displayed in a haunted house. And psychedelic PEZ are set beside a real Volkswagen Beetle that appears to be crashing through the wall.
Owners Kevin and Tim Coyle hope to entice some of the 400,000 or so yearly Crayola visitors to turn left out of the crayon factory and walk 30 seconds down a mural-filled alley to visit the shrine to the hand-held candy dispensers.
And if 4-year-old Andrew is the Coyles’ typical customer, then the brothers have a hit on their hands.“We were at the Crayola Factory and he wasn’t nearly as excited,” said Andrew’s father, Kevin O’Toole, of Garden City, New Jersey. "Plus they did a really good job. Everything’s at eye level for kids.
“You know what made me laugh when I came in?” O’Toole continued. “I had that Hulk one when I was little, and then you look at the price.”
PEZ collecting an expensive pastime
The Hulk PEZ that O’Toole was referring to was priced at about $75 — and that’s on the inexpensive end for rare PEZ dispensers. One of the more expensive PEZ the Coyles have on display is a baseball glove, ball and bat PEZ from the 1960s. It cost about $400. Even that is not overly expensive. Collectors on eBay push prices for ultra-rare PEZ into the thousands. That rare PEZ dispensers can command such high prices is one demonstration of a recent surge in PEZ’s popularity.
Jill Cohen has run the PEZAMANIA collectors convention in the Cleveland area for more than a decade. The first event attracted only a couple dozen people. Now considered the premier PEZ convention by collectors, the convention can attract over a thousand.
“Now I have to get the biggest ballroom in Cleveland,” Cohen said. “I’ve outgrown three hotels.”
Interest in PEZ has spiked in the last decade, fueled by a nostalgia for childhood toys and the Internet. “For me it combines the two favorite elements of childhood — that’s toys and candy,” Cohen said.
The Easton museum, which opened in mid-July, is already getting positive reviews on PEZ chat rooms, Cohen said. And one name widely known in PEZ circles — Shawn Peterson, author of the book “Collector’s Guide to PEZ” — called the museum “a great place.”
“The location just couldn’t be any better, and what they’ve done with it is really nice,” said Peterson.“They’ve done a nice job with their displays, how they’ve got everything themed,” he said. “You may not see some rare things there, but they’ve probably got more work in their displays than anyone else.”
The history of PEZ
PEZ, derived from the German word for peppermint, pfefferminz, was first produced for adult smokers in Austria more than 50 years ago. The bite-sized candies have been in the United States for about 50 years. The Orange, Connecticut-based company says more than 3 billion PEZ candies are consumed annually in the United States.
The Easton museum, which lays out the dispensers by era and genre, shows how the candies have changed over the years.
There are NFLPEZ and superheros, Star Wars and Charlie Brown. Elton John and Santa Claus. There is also a “Where in the World is Waldo” game the brothers have set up on a wall display containing more than 500 dispensers.
There is a nominal entrance fee for the museum, and the store sells hundreds of PEZ products. Neither the Easton museum nor another PEZ museum in Burlingame, California, near San Francisco, is affiliated with the PEZ candy company.
“My brother and I have been joking to each other, ‘How do you like having $100,000 invested in plastic dolls?’” said Kevin Coyle, 37. “We could end up with a whole lot of Easter gifts.”
The brothers say they’ve received cooperation from Crayola, and they hope the PEZ museum gives people another reason to visit Easton, 50 miles north of Philadelphia on the New Jersey border.
“People are driving two hours from New Jersey. They don’t want to drive two hours and do one thing and turn around and go home,” Kevin Coyle said.
Given the museum’s smart location, and that PEZ appeals to just about everyone — men, women, young, old, blue collar and those with advanced degrees, as Cohen puts it — the museum may be bound for success.
“It’s something everyone can relate to,” Peterson said. “Whether it was a gift or a gag, everyone’s got a PEZ dispenser laying around in a drawer somewhere.”
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