- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Not even diamonds outshine Pez in Paula Frantz’s opinion.

“Nick wanted to buy me a diamond ring and I told him I’d rather have a Pez vending machine,” she said of her longtime boyfriend Nick Colesi. “And I’m serious; I’m really serious about that.”

Colesi won’t get off cheap, though. They can sell for between $3,000 and $4,000.

The vending machine would be a perfect compliment to Frantz’s extensive Pez collection in the basement of her Harrison home.

Frantz, 54, an occupational therapist assistant, has amassed a collection valued at more than $55,000.

Inside “Paula’s Pez Place” it looks like a small store. Pez hang on display racks and peg boards and a jewelry case and two massive display cases she bought from the now closed Hollywood Video hold hundreds of Pez dispensers.

Also on display are Pez flip flops, gum, light switch covers, eye glasses, German phone cards that advertise Pez, and Japanese mini Pez, which are half the size of traditional Pez dispensers.

She painted the floors the red, yellow and orange of Pez candy wrappers, complete with the Pez logo.

Her collection is known around town. She’s given Brownie Troops tours and when neighbors have out-of-town guests they call to see if they can stop by. She has a guest book and “thank you for visiting” cards.

Though she says she loves “all things Pez,” Frantz’s pride and joy are the hundreds of Pez dispensers that range from collector sets released each year by Pez to vintage dispensers from the 1960s.

Some of them are worth up to $450, she said.

Becoming a Pez Head

Frantz became a “Pez Head” (as collectors are known) in the early 2000’s, but the obsession was sparked in the 1980s when she decided to get the fourth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle to complete a set her kids had.

One of her biggest regrets from those early days is passing up a $7 set of six Eerie Spectors’ Pez dispensers. The heads are made of soft rubber and feature monsters such as a wolf and vampire.

“They were the ugliest Pez I’d seen, and I didn’t have the money to spend on them,” Frantz said.

Today they sell for between $200 and $300.

“I could kick myself,” she said.

Frantz got truly serious about collecting when she started going to conventions.

“When I started going to conventions, it just got crazy,” she said. “That’s when I discovered more things and the kids were leaving and I had more money and time.”

Her first convention was “Pezylvania” in Kutztown, Berks County in 2010.

That’s where Frantz’s sister bought her what is now one of favorite dispensers, a Hurricane Katrina Pez. A collector designed it and only 750 were made to raise money to help hurricane victims.

“It’s one of my special ones,” she said.

Frantz’s collection includes typical favorites in many areas of collectibles - super heroes like Batman and Spiderman, an Elvis box set and Star Wars. She also has Pez from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Smurfs, Muppets, Pokemon and Thomas the Tank Engine.

Among her unique Pez are a traffic cop from Carinthia, Austria, that was designed by kids to help them learn about traffic safety, and “Smart Pez,” which are a boy and girl wearing a cap and gown that dispense vitamins.

Among the dozens of vintage Pez are several Santas, all different, and a parrot and a Casper the Friendly Ghost dispenser that were her favorites as a kid.

The parrot is her original, but she bought the Casper again because hers wasn’t in good condition.

The Casper is unique because it has two ghosts die cut onto the side. The inner slider that holds the candy is red to show through.

Another point of pride is a vintage doctor Pez dispenser she bought at a yard sale for $3. It’s worth between $350 and $400.

“I always get a rush when I know I get nice one,” she said. “I don’t really want to pay lot, because I’m going to keep them. That’s one I got excited about.”

She tries to find Pez at estate sales where she can get them at a lower price, but she also has a number of duplicates that she takes to conventions to trade for a Pez she really wants.

“A dealer will often take 30 (dispensers) for one,” she said.

A growing hobby

One of Frantz’s regular conventions is Pezmania, held annually for 25 years near Cleveland, Ohio. It draws about 1,000 people and is dubbed “the world’s largest gathering of Pez collectors.”

“It’s a good family hobby,” said Linda Gliha of New York, who runs the convention with her husband John. “We see many families where one person is collecting and they all support it.”

As Pez collecting becomes more popular, more conventions have popped up.

Among the newer ones is a one-day event at Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer. It will be the third year for the Steel City Pez Gathering on Sept. 26.

Gliha said she thinks Pez collecting is thriving because it’s fun.

“I think part of the reason is because it’s still affordable, because you can buy them for a couple bucks,” she said. “With most collectables that’s not the case.”

Plus it appeals to a broad range of people, Frantz said.

“There are a lot of doctors, and I know people who are football players, that collect Pez,” she said.

Frantz said she’s more into Pez collecting than ever. She hopes one of her grandchildren will get interested so that she can pass down her collection.

For now she will continue to pursue her dream - besides the Pez vending machine - to own the very first Pez head, an owl. It’s rare and can sell for $6,000.

Frantz has a water jug in which she’s collecting donations to fund her purchase should one ever become available.

“I’d really like to get one,” she said. “I’ve seen one; there are people who have them. But that’s probably as close as I’ll ever get. It’s not an easy one to find, especially in good condition.”

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Pez history

Pez was invented by Edward Haas in 1927 and marketed as a peppermint candy in Vienna.

The name Pez was derived from “pfefferminz,” the German word for peppermint, according to the Pez company website.

In 1948, when the first Pez dispensers came out, the dispensers didn’t have heads. They looked like a cigarette lighter and held mints to help people who wanted to stop smoking.

Pez, headquartered in Orange, Conn., was introduced in the U.S. in 1952.

When they didn’t sell well, the company decided to add heads, include fruit-flavored candy and market them to kids in 1955.

A key feature of the early Pez dispensers is that they don’t have “feet.” The little plastic ovals that allow the dispenser to stand up were added in the late ‘80s.

In the past 50 years about 500 heads have been introduced.

The candy sold in the U.S. is manufactured here, but most of the dispensers are made in Slovenia and Austria, in Central Europe, and China.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1TFRX7o

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Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, https://pghtrib.com

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