PEZ enthusiasts flock to annual candy convention

Shira Kantor

Los Angeles newlyweds Gilbert and Buddy Pate Rodela wandered through the sixth annual Minnesota PEZ Convention wearing infectious smiles and full PEZ regalia, their eyes growing wider with each table of the celebrated candy dispensers they passed.

“We’re on our honeymoon,” Buddy Pate said, showing off a bouquet of fake white flowers dotted with eight PEZ dispensers and packets of the tiny candies. A self-proclaimed avid PEZ fan, she carried the bouquet at the couple’s August wedding.

Her husband has collected approximately 1,000 dispensers in the two years since he became interested in the hobby – something he said he stumbled into accidentally – and only later realized he and Buddy Pate are far from alone.

Approximately 400 enthusiasts – a fraction of the entire PEZ-collecting community – gathered at the Thunderbird Hotel in Bloomington last weekend for the three-day event where they swapped, bought and fawned over the miniature toys.

While the candy dispensers are often associated with children, there is no common PEZ-fanatic profile. Male and female collectors in a range of ages came from all over the United States and as far away as Austria and Japan.

University senior Duane Schmidt was among the Saturday morning crowd, adding to his 300-piece collection with, by his estimate, $85 worth of purchases.

Schmidt said he has yet to come up with a display system for his collection of 10 years, including his most valuable PEZ to date: a $300 soft-headed vampire dispenser. Instead, he keeps most of his dispensers in cardboard boxes strewn about his apartment.

But for many collectors, the display is a bit more sophisticated.

As told by the photographs several conference-goers kept handy, related memorabilia beyond dispensers often constitutes a good part of PEZ fans’ collections.

PEZ papers – relic advertisements and posters – attachable PEZ body parts, PEZ race cars, puzzles, stickers, T-shirts, pins and scores of other PEZ items adorn the shelves of a typical collector’s wall.

The nuances of PEZ collecting are many. Some might not detect the difference between the footless PEZ dispenser and the footed. Nor will they necessarily see a difference in European or American-packaged dispensers.

But this is the stuff PEZ collectors thrive on – the minutiae that determine each dispenser’s value.

Shawn Peterson, an 11-year veteran collector, authored a book on the subject, “Collector’s Guide to PEZ: Identification and Price Guide.” His next project, he said, is building a life-size dispenser to hold his ever-growing collection.

“I lost count a long time ago,” Peterson said of his collection. “But I own several thousand.”

Saturday’s showing and raffle was followed by a charity auction with all of the proceeds going to the American Red Cross.

Dana Kraft, who organized the convention with his wife Juli, said all kinds of people get into collecting for all kinds of reasons.

“I guess it’s just a way for people to get back to their childhoods,” he said.

Shira Kantor welcomes comments at
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