Pez Museum

Jul. 3rd, 2009 06:33 pm
trivialbenj: (Default)
[personal profile] trivialbenj
I took a trip today (solo, as it turns out) to the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia in Burlingame. I got a little bit lost getting there as my directions ("Step 1: Go to Burlingame. Step 2: Get off the highway. Step 3: Find the Pez Museum") turned out to be a bit lacking. I parked in front of a random but friendly looking church and walked through Burlingame's small downtown to find the Pez Museum.

It turned out to be randomly in the middle of a strip mall by the Burlingame CalTrain station, with a Honda dealership and a world music place on one side, and a fancy looking art gallery and rug place on the other. It looked like a pretty small space, but PEZ dispensers are pretty small, so it wasn't too surprising.

It's a cute little storefront, inadvertent self-portrait of the artist aside. You walk into the front room, which could be the Pez Museum all on its own, but turned out to be the gift shop. It was almost evenly divided between sets for the hardcore collector (the entire set of Lion King/Asterix/Tom&Jerry/Elvis Pez dispensers, replicas of some of the more rare Pez dispensers) and impulse buys for the casual and/or ironic visitor. Hiding in the corner, almost not wanting to be seen was the World's Largest Dispenser of Pez. They've done some very careful rebranding to distance themselves from the official Pez company. The owner, curator, and head fanatic greeted me almost as soon as I stepped through the door. Hanging out there for a little while, it was clear exactly how well he had this pattern down. He greeted me enthusiastically, asked if I was a collector, then very politely asked me to pay my $3 and brought me into the museum itself. The museum is about the size of my office at work, crammed full of glass topped display cases and the walls covered with Pez memorabilia of all shapes and sizes.

To save you the trouble of visiting, the tour starts over at the advertisement for Pez.

Pez was originally marketed to adults rather than to kids. The first ad for Pez (out of view on the right hand side) encouraged you to have a Pez after you eat or have a cigarette for minty fresh breath. At the time of that ad, Pez was sold in tins like Altoids, but the revolutionary new idea was to put it in this automatic dispenser that looked like a cigarette lighter. At the time of the first Pez dispensers, the candies were only sold in a single flavor: peppermint or Pfefferminz in German. Take the first, middle and last letters of Pfefferminz and voila, Pez.

I got rushed across to the other side, which is a huge wall of Pez.

You can see the first Pez machines with heads ever produced down at the bottom. I remember it was Bullwinkle and Casper, but I don't remember who else. Every Pez machine ever produced is now at the museum. That's why he started branching out into other historical toys, including the ViewMaster, Tinker Toys, Legos, and Lincoln Logs. He even has ridiculously rare ones, like the bride and groom produced and only given to Pez employees, the one that the owner made for the Lions club in Austria in the 1960s, and two different ones given to Austrian schoolchildren when they opened bank accounts. The last one to finish out his collection was a pineapple with sunglasses, and the rarest was a 1950s era one where you could attach things to its head like a Mr. Potato Head. It was a horrible choking hazard, basically unbelievable.

Before I came, I loaded up the museum tour podcast on my iPod. After he gave me the speed tour, I flipped it on and was tremendously embarrassed to find I was listening to the same guy! Of course the owner/proprietor/curator is going to be the guy who's doing the audio tour. He probably also changes the lightbulbs and sweeps the floors. It allowed for a much more leisurely tour of the museum with the details that he doesn't have to repeat 100 times. Here are the highlights from least to most interesting:

This appeared on eBay one day and the guy who owns the museum was looking at buying it. (An aside, Pez dispensers were critical to the formation of eBay. The creator of eBay started a site for his girlfriend, who was a Pez fanatic, to buy/trade Pez dispensers with other fanatics. One of the Pez dispensers from the museum was actually used in an early eBay ad.) He thought the sign was a hoax/replica of the one outside the Pez headquarters in Austria until a friend who had been there to see it showed him pictures of the original. Both of them have a crack in the lights in the top of the P in the same spot. So either it's an incredibly careful forgery, or it's the real lighted sign from Pez HQ.

This is called the "Psychedelic Eye" and was produced by Pez in the 1960s for less than a year. It was only sold with "flower" flavored Pez. I don't know exactly who they thought wanted to buy that. Maybe the easy to convince stoner market?

See the telephone girl in there? She was sent out to stores advertising the "double pack", which is literally just putting two packs of Pez together and selling them for 10 cents. This didn't happen until 1973. The box contained a little phonograph (that funny looking pink thing below) and it played the following message. (Let's hope it doesn't break!)

She's very erotic sounding for talking about Pez, right? "Oh oh Ohhhhh". According to the curator, this is the only working one of these audio ads, so this message was almost lost to the ages!

You can see souvenirs of the guy who runs the museum on To Tell the Truth, a Jack in the Box Pez dispenser autographed by Jack himself, and the history of guns which shoot Pez candy, but you have to leave something for people who are bored in Burlingame one fateful afternoon.

After all that, I headed back into the gift shop, took one last longing look at the World's Largest Dispenser of Pez, grabbed myself a souvenir R2D2 Pez Machine and hit the road.

Bye, everybody!

Date: 2009-07-04 03:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is such a quintessential Benj adventure. Great write-up. Pez has a much more interesting (and sordid) history than I would have thought.

Date: 2009-07-04 03:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Excellent! Thanks for the write-up.

Date: 2009-07-04 04:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hey, do you have interest in the SF Mime Troupe (not actually mimes, more like a political satiric theater group) at Dolores Park this afternoon? It's either 1:30 or 2.

Date: 2009-07-04 04:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes! I think they'll be in my neighborhood park next weekend, but carpe diem!

Date: 2009-07-04 04:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You're right. Mime Troupe Schedule.

Today it looks like music is at 1:30 and the Mime Troupe goes on around 2.


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