Why I Collect

It starts out like any Sandra Bullock romantic comedy. There’s this wacky young lady, who works a demanding day job, freelances in the evenings, runs around with her smartphone and zooms through her days just trying to balance it all. She gets up one Saturday morning, grabs her travel coffee mug, she realizes she’s late to meet a friend and rushes down the street. When she’s halfway down the road, she turns around, realizing that she left something important at home. She trips, drops her keys and spills her coffee on her pants. She crouches down to pick up her keys and then suddenly looks up. Her eyes are frozen. Her heart starts racing. Her breathing pattern quickens. She is struck by love.

Except when this happens to me there is no tall, dark, handsome Keanu Reeves type stranger staring back at me, reaching out to help me up (I don’t think my husband would like that). It’s usually a to-die for alabaster lamp, a giant turn-of-the-century oil painting, a 18th century Pennsylvania blanket chest or a rare and vibrantly painted advertising collectable.

The shiny object...the porcelain Coca Cola button.

Collecting is literally like falling in love for me. And no, I’m not just shopping people! This is about finding that thing that makes my pulse quicken every time I see it from across the room and treasure the fact that is in my life FOREVER. Sure, I may find things that seem “cute” and “attractive.” Some of the things that I love the most are the things that seem a little “rough” or even “ugly.” No matter what its appearance, it usually has a great story too. For example, the story behind the one love that keeps slipping through my hands: the Coca Cola button.

How The Romance Started

In the 1920’s, my great grandparents opened a tiny restaurant in the coal-mining region near Reading, PA. The restaurant was called “Kotis Café” (their last name). According to family, the restaurant was very popular, due to Pearl’s cooking (my great-grandma). My mom has said that the restaurant kept the family afloat during the depression because everyone in town adored and loved Pearl’s cooking.

The Kotis Cafe...wish I could stop in for a hamburger and glass bottle coke.

In 1954, tragedy struck the family when my grandfather was killed while trying to save a bus full of people during Hurricane Hazel. My grandmother was left to raise her two small children alone. Pearl had left the restaurant so she could help her daughter with the children. The only cooking she did after that was for my mom and my uncle at my grandmothers’ house. The Kotis Café would only be a happy memory of a time passed, where friends gathered for good food and good company.

A few years back, I located the only relic that is still in existence of the Kotis Café…a very tiny 4” x 4” photograph. On the front of the building hung the sign for the restaurant, which was anchored on each side by a 24” x 24” porcelain Coca Cola button. There is no way to locate the original restaurant sign, the beautiful stained glass windows from the building or the contents that were inside. One piece of history that has seemed tangible to me is to locate an antique Coca Cola button, exactly like the ones that hung on the building.

Chasing Coca Cola

Coca Cola collectibles are hot. The Coca Cola empire got it’s start in 1886 and has become one of the most heavily marketed brands in the world. Not that this hot collectible has needed a boost, but popular television shows like Pawn Stars, American Pickers and Auction Kings have helped to increase the demand and value of antique advertising.

I have combed just about every antique store on the East Coast for this treasure, had several failed attempts to purchase one off of Craigslist and have also been out-bid at several auctions. And that’s okay. I almost feel like Indiana Jones chasing after this lost relic from my families past. It’s exciting and makes the thrill of the hunt that much sweeter. It’s about unlocking stories from the past and finding the things that connect with you on a personal or emotional level. And who knows…maybe if I find one of these Coca Cola buttons and hang it in my kitchen, I’ll suddenly find myself surrounded by good food and good friends in the Kotis Café.

Note: For great overview about the history of Coca Cola signs, check out Collectorsweekly.com.

Copyright 2012. The Savvy Seeker blog by Erin Hurley-Brown. All Rights Reserved.

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