You never know when an obsession is going to start. My preoccupation with PEZ dispensers started so innocently …
I was at work. A coworker was cleaning off her desk. She had one PEZ dispenser that she was going to throw away. I said I’d take it. It would be a harmless adornment for my workspace. A little Technicolor whimsy. It was such a non-issue, that I don’t even remember which dispenser it was. I think it was Donald Duck.
Twelve years later, I now have a steadily growing sickness. I am on the continual hunt for the newest PEZ dispensers. In the back of my mind is a running inventory of the dispensers I need to complete character sets. I can’t walk into a convenience store without looking for that cardboard display at the end of each aisle. My collection is small — I only have about 75 pieces — but my obsession is great.
PEZ dispensers. Retro. Relevant. And totally frivolous.
I bet there are a few things you might not know about PEZ collecting*:
- PEZ candies were invented in 1927 in Austria. The first PEZ was a peppermint, marketed to high-class adults as a “mint for the noble society.”
- The mints were sold in metal tins similar to today’s Altoids.
- First dispenser produced in 1949 and looked like a cigarette lighter. The mints were advertised as an alternative to smoking.
- The PEZ dispensers that we know today first appeared in 1952 when the candies entered the US market, and heads were put on the dispensers to appeal to Americans. The first heads were of generic people and animals.
- Already established characters came about in the early 1960s when PEZ struck a deal with Disney. Mickey, Donald and Goofy PEZ dispensers were born.
- Since 1950, over 550 different PEZ dispensers have been created. There are about 80 different dispensers on the market at any time.
Today, PEZ continues to produce classic Disney characters, a long with several other well-known icons. Newer dispensers include characters from recent movies, such as “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Finding Nemo” and “SpongeBob Square Pants.”
Sports fan can find dispensers depicting the helmets of popular NASCAR drivers, college football teams, and major league baseball logos.
While many well-known cartoon faces have adorned dispensers, no real-life person was accurately depicted on a PEZ dispenser until 2006. A limited edition series of three PEZ dispensers were made to look like the family of the reality TV show of “American Choppers.” The second real-person was Elvis, with a 2007 limited edition set of 3 dispensers from different time periods in Elvis’ life.*
In case you were wondering, for Christmas last year, I asked for the just-released “Star Trek” gift set with the 7 original crew members and the Starship Enterprise. The gift set looks very good next to the “Star Wars” set I received two years ago.
Clearly my PEZ dispensers have personal value to me. Overall, none of the dispensers I own have a lot of monetary value.
Take Batman, for example.
- The Batman that I bought about 5 years ago is worth $1-3.
- A Batman from the 1980s is worth about $5-10.
- A Batman dispenser with cape from 1960s is valued at $100-150.
I looked in a PEZ collectables book to appraise other dispensers in my collection. Flintstones characters are worth $1-3, Muppets $1-3, Peanuts $1-3. That collectables book is a few years old, however.
Recently, I found out that the Peanuts, Flintstones, Garfield, Muppets and Simpsons dispensers have all been discontinued. I bet I could get a whopping $5 for each, if I were willing to part with them … which I’m not.
Besides, the value for these discontinued characters will stay low for a while. They are still very popular characters and readily available for collectors to trade.
The rarest PEZ dispenser is the “Make A Face” dispenser from the 1970s — a sort of Mr. Potato Head, with attachable parts. It was taken off the market quickly, because of fear that children would swallow the small parts. If you find one, it’s worth forty-five hundred dollars in its original package.
The highest sale of a single PEZ dispenser was a Mickey Mouse softhead for $7,000. The softhead dispenser was a factory prototype and was never available to the public.*
If you are interested in starting your own PEZ collection, here are a few tips:
- Ask yourself why you want to collect PEZ dispensers. Is it for love or for money? The majority of the dispensers out there will not appreciate past a $10 value, even if you keep it for 20 years. So don’t spend a lot of money on any one dispenser, unless you really want it. I have a $2 limit for each dispenser, but try not to spend more than a buck-50.
- When buying dispensers, avoid shopping at antique or collectible stores, unless you are on the hunt for something specific. Collectibles stores are often overpriced.
The absolute best place to buy PEZ is a store in Los Angeles called Sparky’s. It has the largest commercial PEZ collection in the world, including some valuable antiques. They sell just about every dispenser currently available on the market. That’s where I got most of my Simpsons and Muppets dispensers. There’s only one location for Sparky’s. If you are ever at Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles, it worth visiting.
My second favorite place to buy PEZ dispensers is at any dollar store around town. Dollar stores usually have a good variety of PEZ and I’ve never seen a dispenser sold for less than $1 anywhere, so I know I’m getting a good deal. Grocery stores are also a good place to buy PEZ.
Of course, you can always search Amazon and eBay for deals on specific pieces. A new outlet is The Collectionary.com, where experts and fan collectors can share their acquisitions and learn about other pieces.
My last tip for starting a PEZ collection is to only collect dispensers that you like. Remember, most of the pieces in my collections are worth $1-$5.
Clearly, I’d be wrong to include this collection as part of my retirement assets, so its real value is personal. If I limit my collection to dispensers that I have a genuine affection for, I’ll get a lot more enjoyment from it.
For a brief time a few years ago, I thought I could make a go at being a cut-throat collector. I imagined having rooms filled with dispensers. Newspaper and TV crews would come to do stories about my phenomenal collection. Then I realized that I have other things to do with my time and money, and came back to my senses.
As a result of that brief stint of insanity, I bought about a bunch of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle dispensers before I realized that I didn’t know my Leonardo from my Donatello. Now I’m stuck with a hodgepodge of dispensers that don’t deserve to go on the same shelf as Darth Vader or the Simpsons.
Besides, when it comes to hard-core collecting, there are a lot of very aggressive eBay savvy collectors out there ready to grab all of my toys and run away. I don’t want that to happen. I LIKE my dispensers – well, most of them.
Whether you decide to become a serious collector, or take a more leisurely approach, as I do — be warned. As you go about your life, these little plastic diversions will forever take up space in your mind — and in your house.
More about PEZ
- Check out The Collectionary and sign up to be one of their PEZ experts.