Candy enthusiasts heading to St. Louis for national PEZ convention

Sunday, June 11, 2006
Photo illustration by Aaron Eisenhauer

You remember PEZ, right?

No, not the actor from "That '70s Show." His name was Fez.

No, we're talking about those little candy dispensers that flip back almost like a cigarette lighter. The dispensers come in all sorts of shapes. Some of the early dispensers came in the form of cars and trucks, but mostly they were disguised as characters, like Donald Duck.

Yeah, of course you remember them. And it's not like they're gone. They're still in stores today. But here's a more important question: Do you remember what you did with them when you were done with the candy?

Throw them away? Pack them away in a child's toy box somewhere?

If you remember where they are, you might want to get them.

Consider the following eBay listing:

"It looks like a water pistol, but this plastic gun is an old PEZ candy dispenser. It is made of clear plastic. On the handle are a rocket, planet and stars. I think it is from the 1950s. Very clean. No candy inside. Thanks for looking!"

Care to guess how much the water-pistol PEZ thing went for?

Eleven thousand dollars.

If the nostalgia or the price tag has conjured a new appreciation for the novelty, there's one more question for you: What are you doing next week?

That's when St. Louis becomes PEZ Paradise. PEZ enthusiasts from all over the country will participate in the 14th annual Saint Louis PEZ Convention 2006.

The PEZ party will run Wednesday, June 21, through Saturday. It will include games, auctions, shows trivia, raffles and presentations. Organizers say the event drew 300 people last year. They've already booked a block of rooms at a St. Louis hotel for this year's event.

Michael and Ronai Brumett of Minnesota will be making the trip for the first time. They'll be leading a workshop on "Creating PEZ props." Michael, a graphics artist, has coined a novelty of his own: PEZ costumes.

For husband Michael and wife Ronai, their PEZ partnership began during the courting stage. Ronai had a "thing" for PEZ candy when she was going to college, and when they were on a date, she offered a piece of PEZ to her future husband.

"The next time we go out, I figure I'll pick up a PEZ because she'll think I'm cool," Michael said in a telephone interview.

The ploy worked. Now the couple has four children, ages 4, 6, 8 and 10, all of whom collect PEZ dispensers. They have more than 1,000 dispensers in their collection.

Michael values the dispensers from an artist's point of view. Every dispenser began with an idea and a design, something that he appreciates being a graphic artist. His favorite is the "Mr. Ugly" PEZ.

Ronai likes the PEZ-pal girl.

They're two of perhaps thousands of collectors across the United States.

In nearby Murphysboro, Ill., David Welch possesses one of the most extensive PEZ collections in the world. He's written two books on the subject, "A Pictoral Guide to Plastic Candy Dispensers" and "Collecting PEZ." He said he's sold 8,000 copies of each book.

For Welch, PEZ dispensers are part of his overall collectibles business. Since 1989, he says he has spent $1 million on PEZ merchandise. In 2000 and 2001 he says he was in the Guinness Book of World Records for selling three PEZ dispensers for $18,000. His Web site shows 68,000 hits since 1998.

He likes to buy and sell the dispensers, but he likes to keep PEZ items that are not dispensers. Display items, for example.

The PEZ peddler said PEZ collecting became more of an official hobby in the mid-1980s as collectors started becoming aware of each other and researching the history behind the PEZ corporation.

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