Features - First printed January 6, 2000
A "Pez'tacular destination -- Burlingame museum honors a favorite candy dispenser
By Amy Maginnis-Honey
BURLINGAME - There isn't much chance of heads rolling at the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia. The countless numbers of noggins, bearing the likenesses of everyone from Darth Vader to Fred Flintstone, are all attached to candy dispensers, as they should be.
"People love Pez. There's nothing else like it. Where else is there a toy that gives you candy?'' museum curator, Gary Doss, 45, asked rhetorically. "They are the happiest products on Earth.''
You get the impression Doss is most content talking about Pez, the rectangular candy that was invented in 1927 by Austrian candy executive Eduard Haas. The original peppermint flavor was sold in tins and marketed as an adult mint for people trying to quit smoking.
Pez is an abbreviation of the German word for peppermint.
The first Pez dispenser surfaced around 1950. Two years later, cartoon heads and fruity flavored candy were introduced.
Though Doss ate Pez as a child, he began collecting about 15 years ago. "I didn't save any dispensers from my childhood, so I bought them all back,'' he said.
Then, he took his collection to his computer store just for fun and Garfield soon triumphed over gigabytes.
"I don't sell computers anymore,'' he said. "It's all Pez. I made the mistake of putting it on the Internet.''
Doss and his staff sent out an average of 50 boxes a day during the past Christmas season. While the museum is normally closed on Sunday and Monday, he kept it open those days in December.
Though Glenn Mendolson and his children, Lena, 5 and Palmer, 7, didn't do any "Pezzing'' this Christmas, they are regulars at the store.
Mendolson and his children have accrued about 500 Pez dispensers the past few years for their individual collections.
"It started out with Palmer,'' he said of his son. "Then I inherited it. Now it's mine.''
His license plate even reads "PEZ GUY.'' He's returning one set of personalized ones that read "PEZ NUT.''
He yearns for a Lions Club lion Pez dispenser, circa 1950. But it would cost about $3,100. "It will be a long time before I ever buy one,'' he said.
He lives and works near the museum/store and stops by frequently. "I look for anything he's (Doss) has picked up in the last 24 hours,'' Mendolson said.
Mendolson usually buys two new Pez sets when they are introduced (TV's Simpsons will debut in March). "One set I don't open and the second I do,'' he said.
The Pez Museum draws visitors from around the globe. Doss often gets calls from international travelers at San Francisco International Airport asking for directions. It's about a 15-minute trek from there.
People's eyes often open in wonder when they walk through the front door. "Wow, I didn't think there was so much Pez stuff,'' is a common reaction.
Doss has some rare finds in his collection, including a Psychedelic Eye Pez from 1968, a 1952 Mickey Mouse and a 1963 astronaut.
He also has one of only 10 make-a-face Pez dispensers that were recalled and crushed because the small parts posed a choking hazard. "It's like a Mr. Potato Head,'' he said.
It was only on the market for three months and today can fetch anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000.
Though he has 550 Pez heads, Doss is still looking for six characters to complete his collection - pear and pineapple heads from the 1970s, a bride and three European characters. "It would probably cost me $18,000 to finish the collection,'' he said.
Only recently has the Pez company come around to the idea of collecting. "They really kept nothing until about the last two years. They've softened toward collectors. Now, they're even putting coupons in some (Pez packages), catering to collectors,'' Doss said.
Doss has also invented a Pez topper, Cozmo Topper. It's manufactured at the museum, which also includes a retail store featuring Pez and Pez memorabilia.
But don't search high and low for Porky Pig; he's never graced the top of a Pez dispenser. "I'd like to see him. I don't know why they didn't make that poor stuttering pig,'' Doss said.
Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia
214 California Drive
Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission is free
Directions: Take Interstate 80 through San Francisco, taking Highway 101 toward San Jose. Exit at the Burlingame/Broadway offramp and veer to the right. Cross the railroad tracks and turn left onto California Drive. Metered parking is available. You can visit it online at www.burlingamepezmuseum.com
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