Coca-Cola Museum Heads To Auction

One of the biggest collections of Coca-Cola memorabilia will be sold off in a series of auctions later this year. The Schmidt Museum of Coca-Cola Memorabilia in Elizabethtown, Kentucky holds a total of around 80,000 items which could have a value of more than $10 million.

The items are currently stored in a museum and warehouse with a total of 32,000 square feet of space. The pieces that are of greatest interest will be sold at live auctions with the first one tentatively scheduled for mid-September. Each auction will sell off around 1,000 pieces and will take place at the museum. Richard Opfer Auctioneering will run the events.

The collection was accumulated by Jan Schmidt, who, along with her late husband Bill Schmidt, started the collection in 1972 when they went to an auction and came home with items that spawned a lifetime of acquisition. The couple were bottlers of Coca-Cola at the time and were searching for a few pieces of Coca-Cola memorabilia to decorate office spaces.

The Schmidt family's Coca-Cola bottling business began in 1901, when Frederick Schmidt opened a plant in Louisville, becoming only the fifth Coca-Cola bottler in the country. Later, he divided the Louisville franchise territory among his three sons. The Elizabethtown territory went to middle son Luke Schmidt. Upon his death in 1941, Luke's wife, Irene, managed the operation and in 1955 her son, Bill, returned to Elizabethtown to take over the family business. In the 1970s, Bill and Jan's sons, Luke and Larry, began working at the bottling plant.

The Schmidt Museum Collection of Coca-Cola Memorabilia opened to the public in March of 1977. In November 1999, after 25 years and almost a million visitors from around the world, the museum closed for about a year due to changes in state regulations. It reopened for several years at the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Center.

In the fall of 2005, the Schmidt Museum of Coca-Cola Memorabilia moved to a new 32,000-square-foot museum/warehouse facility. To prepare for the sale the museum has been closed but the gift shop remains open. Items in the museum include one-of-a-kind posters, rare serving trays, unique bottles, colorful jewelry, lighted signs, antique delivery trucks, Santa icons and even the side of a barn all relating to one of the most iconic brands in the history of the United States and perhaps the world. Some items in the collection date back to the 1800s.

"A big portion of our life has gone into collecting these wonderful, artistic pieces," says Jan Schmidt. "We didn't set out to accumulate the world's largest (privately owned) collection. All we wanted to do was tell a story and put it on display."

The Schmidt family plans to establish a charitable foundation using much of the proceeds. Allan Petretti, author of Petretti's Coca-Cola Collectibles Price Guide, says that the collection is the best of the best, featuring the rarest of rare pieces. "They have things from every era and from every category: clocks, posters, toys, trucks, bottles. You name it, and they have it."

It will likely take several years to completely divest the collection. Some of the top pieces include a large, bright-yellow poster, circa 1895 used to advertise Coca-Cola at a soda fountain. It features a woman with a beverage in her hand. It reads, "Drink Coca-Cola. Delicious. Refreshing. Cures Headache. Relieves Exhaustion. At Soda Fountains 5 cents." Another piece is the "Victorian Girl" serving tray, one of only two known in existence.

The tray dates to circa 1897 and is among the first-ever Coca-Cola tin trays. Over the years, Coca-Cola produced more than 200 styles of trays, and the Schmidt Museum has the only complete collection. An onyx and marble soda fountain made in 1893 for the Columbian Exhibition of the World's Fair in Chicago will be sold during the first auction event. For more information visit the Schmidt Museum website.

Coca-Cola items have sold for high amounts before. In 2007 at Dan Morphy Auctions, a 1900 Coca-Cola embossed tin sidewalk sign sold for $55,000. In 2006, a 1929 Ford Coca-Cola delivery truck which had been in the Blue Ridge Vintage Car Museum sold for $30,000. In 2004 at Christie's a Coca-Cola Santa oil painting by Haddon H. Sundblom, the artist who painted the famous Coca-Cola Santa Claus advertisements, went for $57,360 including buyer's premium.

Many artworks depicting Coca-Cola logos and the distinctive curvy bottle done by everyone from Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns to Wang Guangyi and Xue Song have also fetched thousands in art auctions. The enduring power of the brand on the global consciousness should ensure quite a bit of excitement around these auctions.


Photos Courtesy of Schmidt Museum
Schmidt Museum

Victorian Poster Girl 1898
Schmidt Museum

Santa Collection 1940s-1970s
Schmidt Museum

Coca-Cola Syrup Barrel 1920s
Schmidt Museum

Side of a barn 1940s
Schmidt Museum

Hobbs Body Delivery Truck 1941

Deidre Woollard

Deidre Woollard has been writing both fiction and nonfiction for years. She has a Master of Fine Arts from Spalding University and her short fiction has been published in literary magazines and anthologies. She served as the lead editor on for six years writing about real estate, auctions, jewelry and luxury goods....(Read More)

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