- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

EASTON, Pa. — Andrew O’Toole, only about a yardstick high, dashes back and forth with fiery energy, shouting the names

of his favorite superheroes.

“Spider-Man. A Ninja Turtle. … Batman,” he cries, his father shuffling along beside him.

Andrew is stalking every corner of the recently opened Easton Museum of Pez Dispensers, a cotton-candy-colored world of Pez products that can captivate young and old alike. The museum is just paces away from the Crayola Factory, another childhood playground, where youngsters learn how crayons are made.

Some 1,500 Pez dispensers, all nestled in creative landscapes, fill the museum. Disney Pez sit in a 10-foot-high castle. Halloween-themed dispensers are displayed in a haunted house. Psychedelic Pez are set beside a real Volkswagen Beetle that appears to be crashing through the wall.

Owners Kevin and Tim Coyle hope to entice some of the 400,000 or so annual Crayola visitors to turn left out of the crayon factory and walk 30 seconds down a mural-filled alley to visit the shrine to the hand-held candy dispensers.

If 4-year-old Andrew is the Coyles’ typical customer, the brothers have a hit on their hands.

“We were at the Crayola Factory, and he wasn’t nearly as excited,” says Andrew’s father, Kevin O’Toole of Garden City, N.J. “Plus, they did a really good job. Everything’s at eye level for kids.

“You know what made me laugh when I came in?” Mr. O’Toole says. “I had that Hulk one when I was little, and then you look at the price.”

The Hulk Pez dispenser to which Mr. O’Toole is referring is priced at about $75 — on the inexpensive end for rare dispensers. One of the most expensive dispensers the Coyles have on display is a baseball glove, ball and bat Pez from the 1960s. It costs about $400.

Even that is not overly expensive. Collectors on EBay push prices for ultrarare dispensers into the thousands. That rare Pez dispensers can command such high prices is one demonstration of a recent surge in Pez popularity.

Jill Cohen has run the Pezamania collectors convention in the Cleveland area for more than a decade. The first event attracted just a couple dozen people. Now considered the premier Pez convention by collectors, Pezamania can attract more than 1,000. “Now I have to get the biggest ballroom in Cleveland,” Miss Cohen says. “I’ve outgrown three hotels.”

Interest in Pez has spiked in the past decade, fueled by a nostalgia for childhood toys and by the Internet.

“For me, it combines the two favorite elements of childhood — that’s toys and candy,” Miss Cohen says.

The Easton museum, which opened in mid-July, is already getting positive reviews on Pez chat rooms, Miss Cohen says, and one person widely known in Pez circles — Shawn Peterson, author of the book “Collector’s Guide to PEZ” — calls the museum “a great place.”

“The location just couldn’t be any better, and what they’ve done with it is really nice,” Mr. Peterson says.

“They’ve done a nice job with their displays, how they’ve got everything themed. You may not see some rare things there, but they’ve probably got more work in their displays than anyone else.”

Pez, derived from the German word for peppermint, pfefferminz, was first produced for smokers in Austria more than 50 years ago.

The bite-size candies have been in the United States for about 50 years. Orange, Conn.-based Pez Candy Inc. says more than 3 billion Pez candies are consumed annually in the United States.

The Easton museum, which lays out the dispensers by era and genre, shows how the candies have changed over the years.

There are NFL Pez and superheroes, “Star Wars” and Charlie Brown. Elton John and Santa Claus. There also is a Where in the World Is Waldo? game the brothers have set up on a wall display containing more than 500 dispensers.

The museum charges a nominal entrance fee, and the store sells hundreds of Pez products. Neither the Easton museum nor another Pez museum in Burlingame, Calif., is affiliated with the candy company.

“My brother and I have been joking to each other, ‘How do you like having $100,000 invested in plastic dolls?’” says Kevin Coyle, 37. “We could end up with a whole lot of Easter gifts.”

The brothers say they have received cooperation from Crayola, and they hope the Pez museum gives people another reason to visit Easton, 50 miles north of Philadelphia on the New Jersey border.

“People are driving two hours from New Jersey. They don’t want to drive two hours and do one thing and turn around and go home,” Mr. Coyle says.

Given the museum’s smart location and that Pez appeals to just about everyone — men, women, young and old — the museum may be bound for success.

“It’s something everyone can relate to,” Mr. Peterson says. “Whether it was a gift or a gag, everyone’s got a Pez dispenser lying around in a drawer somewhere.”

The Easton Museum of Pez Dispensers, 15-19 Bank St., Easton, Pa., is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; closed in January. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children, free for 4 and younger.

For information: 610/253-9794 or www.eastonmuseumofpez.com.

Nearby attractions include the Crayola Factory and National Canal Museum at Two Rivers Landing in Easton; 610/515-8000 or www.crayola.com.

Pez conventions will be held July 22 through 24, 2004, at the Holiday Inn in Independence, Ohio (www.pezamania.com), and Aug. 12 through 14, 2004, at the Ramada Inn in Bloomington, Minn. (www.mnpezcon.com/main.html).

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