Collecting Coca-Cola memorabilia started innocently enough in 1980 for a Newmarket woman when she took home a mini bottle of Coke served alongside a shot of rum after an evening out with a family member.
Some 40 years later, the avid collector has amassed hundreds upon hundreds of Coca-Cola-branded items that are displayed museum-style throughout her home and bring her as much personal enjoyment now as they did then.
“That little bottle of Coke was so cute, I thought I’ll keep it. That was my first item,” said Rhian, who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons due to the extensive nature of her collection.
The second item Rhian added to her collection not long after was another Coke bottle circa-1908 she found at the Barrie antique car show. It was manufactured in Toronto and had a stopper with little holes that could be repurposed to disperse water on clothes for a steam-iron pressing.
“So from that piece, my collection went a little crazy,” Rhian said with a laugh. “I love the taste of Coke, especially in the summertime, but I think it’s the red and white of the logo, those are my favourite colours, and the writing of the logo is beautiful.
"From there, it just took off.”
In the early years of collecting, Rhian picked up pieces at upward of five Coca-Cola conventions she attended each year in the United States. About one-third of her collection is courtesy of family and friends, including a recent Coke-emblazoned napkin dispenser a friend picked up for her in Switzerland.
“I got to know the whole U.S. from travelling to the conventions. That was my holiday,” she said. “They would close the hotel to us and every room would be open and you went room-hopping, where all the rooms were full of Coke items.”
Rhian’s diverse Coke collection spans items from the early-1900s onward and includes a massive inventory of Coke cans and bottles from countries around the world, matchbooks, balloons, dancing cans, watches, toy trucks, playing cards, vintage posters framed and in mint condition, trays, tins, bottle openers, Christmas ornaments, pillows, clothing, license plates, Barbie dolls, Coke advertisements in publications, iconic Coca-Cola button signs, and more.
While she stopped attending Coke conventions about 16 years ago, she took a trip last year to the soda company’s headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., where officials brought in items from the archives for that year’s convention.
“It was really cool,” Rhian said. “It’s been fun and I’ve met some beautiful people along the way.”
But now, Rhian is preparing to inventory her entire collection and plans to offer a majority of it for sale, which includes an early 1950s Coca-Cola vending machine that dispensed the soft drink at the time for six cents a bottle.
After four decades of carting home Coke memorabilia and collectibles, Rhian said she is running out of wall space and other places to display the collection. She flips through one thick binder from a tall packed bookcase in her basement that’s filled with Coca-Cola ads that ran on the back page of National Geographic from the 1920s to 1970s, among other things.
She wonders out loud how best to display the hundreds of pieces of content, and said there is still much work to do to catalogue the items, possibly framing them into a collage.
“It’s time. I’m getting up there in age,” she said of planning for her retirement. “I’m not getting rid of everything, like the Coke glasses which I use, but for the rest, it’s got to go. I can’t even fathom it, where did the time go?”