Collecting Advice

Coca-Cola - A Beginner's Guide to Collecting


Collectors today can find an enormous selection of Coca-cola memorabilia and collectibles, Coca-Cola collectors divide themselves up into smaller groups of collectors. There are those who specialize in bottles, cans, clocks, signs, toys, trays, and many other groups. Some collectors focus on just one group of items while others collect a little bit of everything. There are several items you can start your Coca-Cola collection with including bottles, wooden crates, metal serving trays, and calendars. 

Coca-Cola Bottles

Coca-Cola did not originally intend to sell its products in bottles. In fact, the first man to bottle Coca-Cola did so without the permission of the company; in 1894 Joseph Biedenharn began to bottle Coke so customers could take the carbonated drink to picnics and other spots outside of the soda fountain. There are many styles, and even colors, of Coca-Cola bottles. The earliest bottles had very different shapes from the contour bottles we see today. Most bottlers produced clear bottles, but some bottlers went with light green, a widely used and less expensive color. Because bottles were still hand-blown into molds until about 1910, irregularities were common. In addition to the embossed “Coca-Cola” on the bottles themselves, bottlers also glued a diamond-shaped paper label to the side of each bottle to further identify its contents. Dating Coca-Cola bottles made after 1916 is relatively straightforward, thanks to the manufacturer’s numbers on the base or bottom of the bottle. These four-digit numbers, which are separated into pairs by a dash, identify the bottle mold (the first two numbers) and the year of its manufacture (“30,” for example, would indicate 1930). Newer bottles also have four-digit numbers, but they provide even more information. In these bottles, the first digit represents the year, the second indicates the mold, the third is the manufacturer’s symbol, and the fourth identifies the plant where the glass bottle was blown.

Coca-Cola Wooden Cases

Wooden cartons were generally used in the 1940s while paper was in relatively short supply due to the outbreak of World War II. These wooden cartons come in a variety of shapes and sizes with different designs. Coca-Cola also made wooden crates meant to hold a dozen bottles as well as wooden carriers for six-packs, often made out of planks of wood but in some cases made of bent veneers. There are often a wide variety of cases and crates available on Ebay.

Coca-Cola Metal Trays

Coca-Cola began distributing tin serving and change trays to soda fountains in 1897. Trays produced from that date until 1968 belong to the first, or classic, era of Coca-Cola trays. Because trays made from 1970 onward were often reissues of older trays or were made from new materials, these trays belong to the modern age of Coke trays. The earliest trays often have the slogan “Delicious and Refreshing,” but slogans changed over time, with phrases like “Drink Coca-Cola,” “Coke Refreshes You Best,” “Here’s a Coke for you,” and “Be Really Refreshed!” Some trays had no slogan at all, only the familiar Coca-Cola logo.

For more background on which trays are most sought after and valuable check out this appraisal of antique Coca-Cola trays from The Antiques Roadshow

Coca-Cola Calendars

The earliest known Coca-Cola advertising calendar was issued for 1891. Using the latest printing technology, the company published a beautiful full-color lithographed calendar with an image of a pretty young woman drinking Coke. It’s believed that Coca-Cola distributed at least one calendar every year, although calendars from 1905 and 1906 have never been found. Early calendars promoted the “health” benefits of Coke; for example, the 1897 calendar called “Victorian Girl” reads, “Delicious and Refreshing. Relieves Mental and Physical Exhaustion. Cures headaches.” A 1904 calendar is unusual because it features a little girl, breaking an unspoken rule of the era that discouraged using children in advertisements. The 1908 calendar contained the slogan “Good to the Last Drop,” which was later trademarked by Maxwell House Coffee. Check out Collectors Weekly for more great info on collecting Coca-Cola.