Type in the words "Coca-Cola" on eBay, and on any given day, roughly 40,000 items will pop up for bidding. To put that in perspective as far as collectibles go, typing in NASCAR only reveals a few more than 6,000 items.
Few things are more coveted in the South, save for a John Deere and good dog, than Coca-Cola memorabilia. And while most people can tell you what Coke knickknacks they own, few can tell you why.
From lampshades to fish bobbers to trading cards and vintage signs, Coca-Cola products and souvenirs fill garages, bedrooms and basements as proud reminders of ... well, no one is exactly sure.
But almost all collectors agree on one thing — they just can’t stop.
Hall resident Joe Woodall, 74, just recently added an unopened souvenir bottle to his nearly 30 years worth of Coca-Cola memorabilia. His niece brought the souvenir home from a cruise. Woodall will now display it along with other bottles, clocks, Christmas ornaments and even a Coke race car.
Retired from The Coca-Cola Co. since 1997, Woodall has amassed his collection with great care, and mostly he said, out of fondness of his many years employed with the company.
His niece, Sandra Adams, said Woodall has often commented that he would die before he would part with his collection.
"While he was in the hospital I came over and dusted. First thing he said when he came home was ‘somebody moved my Coke stuff,’" said Adams.
Though Woodall has never put a price on his collection, not all Coke fanatics feel so attached.
Jake Carter, 14, also a Hall County resident, has been collecting Coca-Cola items for only a short while, but says one day he’ll probably just "sell it." Carter says a trip to The World of Coke museum in Atlanta sparked his thirst for everything Coke. His grandparents, he said, gave him a few antique items and he has been hooked ever since.
"I just love the product and just started collecting things. Most are cans, bottles and signs and I’ve ordered some stuff off the Internet," said Carter. "I just try to get anything unique or different."
And unique is exactly what some collectors strive to attain, even if it is completely by accident.
"I was working on a construction site over by Brenau back in the ’70s when we uncovered the bottles," said Talmo resident Wayne Miller on his Sherwood Park find. The bottles turned out to be some of the first off the line from the local bottling plant. In fact, one of the bottles has a misspelling.
"They left the ‘e’ out of Gainesville," Miller said.
Miller has never been able to find out how much the bottle could be worth, but he doesn’t much care. The novelty just never seems to wear off.
Marie Faunce, co-owner of Remember When Antiques on Dawsonville Highway, said in her 25 years of dealing in collectibles, she had never seen such a large concentration of Coca-Cola memorabilia fans until she moved to the South. Keeping items in stock, she said, is a must.
Asked what the fascination is, Faunce said it’s nostalgia.
"It’s corny, but that’s why a lot of people collect antiques in general. It brings back happy memories," she said.
And as a Pepsi drinker from Michigan, Faunce said she feels the connection to the South has more to do with Atlanta being home base for The Coca-Cola Co. Call it command central of the cola war.
Carol Hagood agrees.
"I look at it like an icon; there’s always gonna be Coca-Cola. And Atlanta is the hub," Hagood said.
She has been collecting Coca-Cola odds and ends over the years. Her son, Steve, is employed with The Coca-Cola Co. and occasionally brings her a new item. All total, she has about 100 items. From candles to potholders and even Coca-Cola tennis balls, Hagood said what started as a hobby steadily grew.
Though she can’t say she has just one favorite item, she’s proud of her vintage Sprite Boy writing tablet, likely issued to grammar school children in the 1940s.
Her love of Coke has little to do with the actual drink — she grew up on RC Cola — but more the feeling she gets when she comes across a vintage piece.
"It throws you back to the ’40s and ’50s, a time when things meant more, people thought about each other more. Just memories of a simpler time in life," said Hagood.
Some collectors, like Gainesville resident Dan Summer, say they believe the Coca-Cola logo is "about as ubiquitous as the American flag." Summer not only has a collection of antique chest coolers, but he also finds a way to incorporate vintage Coca-Cola signs into the architecture of buildings he has restored.
The old Imperial Pharmacy building in downtown Gainesville has a hand-painted mural on its street side thanks to Summer. He wrote a letter to Doug Ivester, former CEO of The Coca-Cola Co. and Hall County native, asking for permission to use the logo. Ivester responded by sending an artist up with an array of signs for Summer to choose from. Summer owns several buildings in and around Gainesville adorned with vintage Coke advertising.
And Summer, like a lot of collectors, is particular about the era of the item.
"It has to say ‘drink,’ not ‘enjoy’ because ‘drink’ is pre-1970s," he said.
But some collectors aren’t picky at all.
Hall resident Hoyt Brookshire worked for The Coca-Cola Co. for 28 years, but it wasn’t until after retirement that he began accruing what has turned into an entire room of Coke-themed products. The drapes, bedspread, mirror, phone and nearly everything else in Brookshire’s back bedroom are Coca-Cola. An entire wall lined with shelves holds hundreds of commemorative bottles. From the royal wedding of Charles and Diana to the Homer Easter egg hunt to some events that not even Brookshire is familiar with, Coke dominates.
Brookshire estimates his collection to be worth about $4,000. And over the years he has traded various items with other collectors. His hobby keeps him active and social, said Brookshire’s wife, Lucille.
"He’s such a people person."
Like Carter, Summer just loves the product. But also like Hagood and Faunce, it is nostalgia that keeps him hooked.
"It harkens me back to childhood," said Summer. "It is Americana."
Faunce said she agrees. Even the logo’s colors are seemingly patriotic.
Lucille Brookshire admits they are a little biased when it comes to Coca-Cola, but she said there is no doubt the company has been successful in marketing its product.
"It only took these three words: Coke is it."