PEZ MANIA

When I myself

was a wee

lad, I had a

Spiderman

PEZ dispenser. I carried it everywhere. I slept with it. I ate with it nothing but cherry PEZ, of course. I lived on the stuff. I even showered with Spiderman, and it will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Now that I am a grizzled old man of twenty, I prepare for my imminent death by reflecting on my lost innocence. It seems as if I could reach and touch my childhood if I could hold that Spiderman PEZ dispenser in my hot little hands yet again. There was magic in those artificially colored and flavored blocks of sugar. It was as if my youthful exuberance had been packed and pressed, then dispensed through the base of Spiderman's head.

There are others out there who understand the power of PEZ. They hold conventions to trade anecdotes, trivia, and collectibles some of which are worth thousands of dollars to a dedicated PEZhead. One such man is Paul Telford, a student at U.C. Davis and curator of the online Pezatorium on the World Wide Web at http://wwwcsif.cs.ucdavis.edu/~telford/pez.html.

"Basically, it all started last year some time. I'd been cruising the WWW for a while, and I figured it was time to start my own page. But then I realized I had to have an original idea. Well, as it happens, I had just bought a PEZ dispenser that day (my first, on a whim) so as I looked around the room I thought 'PEZ!' and so it began ..." says Telford.

The page had humble beginnings, started only as a hobby to relieve the boredom of living in a cow-ridden town like Davis, California. A USENET newsgroup (alt.food.pez not carried here) and mailing list soon followed as Pezophiles from around the world soon came calling.

"Most of our Internet activities now occur on the mailing list. We trade anecdotes, trivia, and news of our most recent dispenser finds! Here's a spot of trivia (it's well known among the PEZheads, but most other people don't know this): PEZ Candy originally came in only one flavor: peppermint. It was marketed to adult smokers, as an alternative to lighting up. The first dispensers (called "Regulars") didn't have those cartoon character heads we are all familiar with . instead they were shaped very much like a disposable cigarette lighter, and by 'flicking' the button on top, a candy was dispensed. It was supposed to be a familiar action for smokers, and therefore it would help them quit smoking."

PEZ Candies, a secretive privately held company, was started in 1927 by Eduard Haas III of Vienna, Austria. The PEZ dispenser was invented in 1948. PEZ candies and dispensers have been marketed in America since 1952. Today, PEZ is available in more than 60 countries around the world.

Far more interesting, however, is the cult that has blossomed from universal love of PEZ candy. Dedicated PEZheads are willing to pay up to $1500 for such rarities as Muselix dispenser (a European cartoon character) and up to $400 for late '60s treasures like the Psychedelic Eye and Psychedelic Flower.

"Well, the one dispenser we all dream about is called 'Make-A-Face.' Just imagine a 'Mr. Potato Head' toy crossed with a PEZ dispenser," states Telford. "Basically, it came with a blank head on the dispenser which had several little holes punched in it. There were also many little pieces (eyes, ears, silly hair, lips, even shoes) You could fit the pieces in place and make any number of different faces. Unfortunately, the little pieces were dangerous for little children, so it was pulled from the market very quickly. Also, many people lost some or all of the little pieces, so finding a complete set today (in good condition) will be worth a bundle (try $3000 or more). To make matters worse, the American market packaged the whole thing with the little pieces behind a piece of plastic which was stapled to the card ... this meant there were little holes between the staples where pieces could fall out. This dispenser is probably the most valuable currently known."

Don't expect to see an O.J. Simpson PEZ anytime soon. Apparently, like the post office, they only do dead people ... or at least people believed to be dead, like Elvis. I, for one, would love to see a Bruce Campbell (of Army of Darkness) PEZ. That way I could say "Gimme some sugar, baby" and get my wish until I ran out of tasty sugar blocks. Nixon is finally dead I think we commemorated his presidency through delectable candy dispensers. Come to think of it, I'd love to see a Christa MacCauliffe PEZ tastelessness never tasted so good.

PEZ, the candy as well as the dispensers, will forever be a part of every American's childhood everybody loves PEZ. Paul Telford has done an impressive job of compiling a complete and comprehensive history of PEZ, a FAQ on PEZ (Frequently Asked Questions document), as well as a superb online PEZ dispenser art gallery. I highly advise that you check it out, you might actually learn something about this familiar consumer product. Oh, and just for the record, Telford's favorite flavor is cherry; too bad it's not available in America anymore. Nobody knows why.

Read Next Article