Sunday, July 1, 2007

PEZ Museum

I'm going to try to get into the habit of blogging every day. In the meantime, I thought I would resurrect some earlier pieces. Here's one I wrote exactly two years ago about our visit to the PEZ Museum in Burlingame.

Gabriel has become a man of taste. He knows what he likes and is not shy about sharing his opinions. So when he found out we were going to the Pez museum he squealed in delight. Gabe is a man who loves his Pez.

The world's only Pez museum is located in Burlingame, just about 10 minutes to the south of us.

We were expecting something on a somewhat grander scale, so when we passed a tiny storefront with PEZ in big letters on the facade we had to do a double take. But there it was, wedged between a cake bakery on one side, and a music store on the other.

Once inside we found a wonderland dedicated to all things Pez. Every conceivable Pez dispenser is for sale there, including some you wouldn't think would be for sale. A door at the back of the gift shop led to the museum.

We paid our $3 a pop for a personal tour of the Pez museum itself. Inside you find yourself in a small, square room lined with display cases, showing off Pez dispensers of every conceivable variety. The owner of the store/museum, a lumbering man who bears a passing resemblance to Randy Quaid, showed us around. The man oozed enthusiasm for Pez and proved to be a repository of Pez facts and minutiae -- things you would never imagine needing to know, but once you do know them you are glad to have found them out.

Pez itself is an acronym for "pfefferminz," German for peppermint. As the name implies, it started out as a breath mint, and originally came in a little tin can, not unlike Altoids. One such can is on display in the museum. And even though all these years I thought Pez was as American as Certs, it turns out to be as European as Altoids. Pez originated, and is still produced, in Austria.

Later came headless dispensers that look somewhat like cigarette lighters. It wasn't until the 1950s that Pez began topping their dispensers with cartoon character heads. Since that time, some 600 varieties of character heads have been produced for the Pez dispensers. All 600 of them are on display at the museum (as of last week, we were told, that number went up to 608).

Our guide started collecting Pez 15 years ago. The Pez museum started out as a small display in a corner of his computer store. He soon realized that people were more interested in the Pez than in computers. He told us he hasn't sold a computer in 10 years.

Recently he added to his collection a piece he had been looking for his entire 15 years as a collector. He guided us to a large case with rows of Pez dispensers and pointed to one on the first row: a faded pineapple-headed dispenser wearing a jaunty pair of sunglasses. One of the most rare Pez dispensers in the world.

Pride of place, however, is reserved for the most rare dispenser in the world. A sort of Pez version of Mr. Potatohead, the Super Spiel was withdrawn very shortly after being introduced because it was felt that all its tiny pieces constituted a choking hazard (Erika chortled at this, saying that Pez itself constitutes a choking hazard; the Pez man was not amused). Only 20 of these pieces are known to still exist.

Speaking of Mr. Potatohead, the museum also boasts an impressive collection of vintage toys, including erector sets, viewmasters and the original Mr. Potatohead. Originally, the Mr. Potatohead pieces were smaller and sharper than what are available now because they had to be stuck into a real potato. If you didn't have access to a potato you could use a cucumber or a pear. Later in the 60s the plastic potato was introduced (you could even get a plastic cucumber).

After a pleasant while spent browsing through Pez we finally bought Gabe a couple Madagascar Pez dispensers and took our leave.

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