Pepsi-Cola collectors from across the United States converged on Memphis, Missouri over the weekend as one of largest accumulations of historical soda pop memorabilia was up for auction.
The estate sale for John and Gayle Johnson offered thousands of Pepsi advertising items from as far back as the 1930’s when the Johnson family started the Pepsi business in Memphis in 1936
Prior to that John, or Sonny as most local folks knew him, offered a variety of soft drinks at the family’s small shop southeast of the Memphis city square. The transition to Pepsi-Cola worked out well for the family, which ultimately opened the Memphis Pepsi-Cola Bottling Plant, and continues to distribute the world famous soft drink across the tri-state area today.
Sonny’s passion for the product carry over into his private life, where he became an avid collector of Pepsi memorabilia.
“If it had a Pepsi logo on it, dad bought it,” said Sonny’s son Mike.
John became known across the region as the Pepsi Man, as much if not more so for his private collection of soda pop artifacts as his business affiliation with the national company.
It was that reputation that brought several hundred collectors from all over the United States to small town Memphis for the two day auction.
The parking lot revealed license plates from Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin just to mention a few states represented at the sale. Other buyers traveled from Virginia, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Jersey and Utah with online buyers participating from as far away as California..
The crowd, which packed the local Pepsi plant parking lot on Friday before filling the warehouse for Saturday’s sale, represented a mix of collectors and antique dealers as well as a few locals wanting to take home something to remember the Pepsi Man who had been a significant part of the small community’s history.
Day one of the two-day event featured mostly modern collector items with day two reserved for the more valuable antique pieces. The auction list included die-cut bottle and bottle cap tin signs, lighted clocks, neon signs, lamps, thermometers, door push signs, glass bottles, wooden carriers and cases, and much, much more.
One of the more unique items, was a motorized man-sized floor display that when fired up, featured a Pepsi peddling monkey flapping his arms while holding a Pepsi can in each hand. That collector item is heading to Utah. Matt Evans of Ephrain was the winning bidder.
“It is definitely unique, something I had never seen before,” said Evans, who made a celebratory leap when his final bid held up.
Evans’s credit’s his father, who worked for Pepsi, for providing his initial interest in the collectibles.
“Unfortunately he didn’t ever bring anything home, so I had to start my collection from scratch later in life,” he said.
The avid fan treks to all three of the major Pepsi Collector conventions across the U.S. each year and is always on the lookout for auctions and other opportunities such as the Johnson sale which he labeled a can’t miss event.
“I’ve traveled to lots of auctions, but the this is easily the biggest one I’ve been to.”
Wisconsin collectors Jody Chrobak and Bill Mulligan agreed.
“It has just been great,” said Chrobak. “The sheer volume of quality items is overwhelming.”
Even with a five-hour drive home looming on Saturday evening, Mulligan said he was more than happy to wait out the auction as it carried into Saturday evening, hoping the perseverance might lead to one or two more treasures to take home.
I could have easily spent at least twice as much as I did, but I am a now broke college student, said auction buyer Laura Caraway from Springfield. “The collection was amazing, and I’m happy that I was able to take a few items of his collection home with me to keep for another generation.”
The travelers from afar were not the only ones heading home happy, family members even got into the act.
“I came across a particular sign, and I don’t know, I think I just really like the message on it,” said John’s daughter, Dana Bondurant. “So I said to myself, that is going up in my kitchen.”
Her determination paid off in the form of a winning auction battle that insured the “family heirloom” would do just that.
Mike, Dana and their sister, Lori, and their extended families uncovered plenty of gems when they began sorting through dad’s collection.
Originally, Sonny had stored the vast majority of his lifetime compilation in the basement of his home. While his family members were well aware of his hobby, they were amazed at the sheer volume, when a few years ago a storm forced them to take measures to preserve the items.
“Apparently the down spouts got clogged up and after a big rain, there were water issues in the basement,’ said son-in-law Brent Bondurant. “It was sort of an emergency situation, so Mike had several of the Pepsi employees help move everything out of the basement.”
The family got an even better feel for the volume of collectibles when they first started preparing for the sale a few months ago. Every weekend they would gather to move items from the home to the warehouse where the auction was to be held March 31st and April 1st.
During that process it was decided that many of the items would not go into the sale, but instead would become exhibits in a museum the family hopes to create at the Pepsi plant.
“We’re still in the planning stages, looking at other similar sites for ideas, but we are hoping that we can have it open in August for the Scotland County Antique Fair,” said Mike.
Sonny’s son said several rooms at the Memphis Pepsi plant will be transitioned to display some of his father’s treasures.
“I’m guessing he’s not particularly happy with us right now since he probably never would have considered selling any of this stuff,” said Mike. “We hope the museum will help us share dad’s love for Pepsi collectibles and let others share the joy these items brought him.”