In 1912, Coca-Cola sold for pennies a bottle. Today that same Non-Amber Straight Sided Script Coca-Cola Bottle can be purchased as a classic collectible for close to $150. That’s more than three times the current value of one share of Coca-Cola stock. So while it might have been wise in 1919 when the Coca Cola Company released shares of common stock to have purchased some, I might also have been clever to have kept a six-pack of Coke hidden under my mattress for 87 years or so and sold it today for over $900. In fact, even the bottle carrier on its own would catch a collector’s eye today!
What makes Coca-Cola bottles such a coveted collectible? Not only has Coke played a part in many people’s fond personal memories of childhood days gone by but it has also been interwoven throughout American culture and history. Artwork from America’s Golden Age of Illustration by renowned artists Norman Rockwell and N.C. Wyeth was used for advertisements. 1928 initiated an unprecedented partnership with the Olympic Games as the soda traveled with our Olympic Team to distant shores. In 1941 the US entered the war and The Coca Cola Company responded by saying that any serviceman anywhere in the world would be able to get a Coke for 5 cents a bottle, no matter what it would cost the company to get it there. We easily can recall the rosy-cheeked Santa Claus sipping his Coca-Cola while delivering his treasures, or the jingle of “It’s the Real Thing” or the images of children of the world holding hands on a hilltop singing “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” speaking to tumultuous times of the late 60’s and early 70’s and their desire to bring about a “sweeter” time. In 1985 it even became the first soft drink consumed in outer-space. It almost becomes blurry as to whether the memory is of the event, the era or of the Coke itself. What is clear though is that Coke was there. And those are powerful associations to drive collectors.
It is no longer only the memories and history associated with Coca-Cola bottles however that encourages the collector’s desire. Special edition bottles have also been, and continue to be, specifically created to commemorate places and events. In limited supply, the demand for these special collectible soda bottles and particularly the unique bottle carriers, (most often quickly discarded by the average consumer once the sodas are safely home) rises significantly creating collectible value based simply on their limited numbers. Commemorative editions, such as the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic bottle, or the Big Drive of ’89 Montana bottle or the more recent six-pack of 2006 Academy Awards Diet Coke are also only released geographically, making them even more specialized and therefore, valued.
Coca-Cola bottles tell a story of Americana and a story of making something special out of the ordinary. Coca-Cola drinkers share over 100 years of thirst-quenching memories. It has been with us through personal events and more significant times in recent history. While writing this article I asked a group of friends “do you have memories of Coke from your childhood?” Four faces immediately smiled and nodded back at me. Perhaps Coca-Cola’s original owners Dr. John Stith Pemberton and his partner, Frank M. Robinson were on to something even bigger than they realized all those years ago, it’s quite possible that they really did capture time in a bottle.