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For some, collecting makes the heart beat faster

February 07, 1999

Coke CollectorBy ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




Welcome to Curtis Kauffman's time machine.

From the outside, the Maugansville area home looks like many others in the comfortable suburban neighborhood.

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But after passing James Dean at the entrance to Kauffman's basement, dropping a dime in the original Westinghouse Coke machine for a bottled grape Nehi soda, sitting on a bottle-cap barstool at the classic soda fountain and perusing a menu with such items as 25-cent king-size hotdogs and 39-cent royal banana splits, it's obvious Kauffman's house is decades removed from those of his neighbors.

"Your average house is pretty much basic," said Kauffman, 36, owner of Memory Lane Antiques in Hagerstown. "When you walk in here, it's like walking back in time," he said.

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Kauffman is a collector.

For the collector, life might seem to revolve around the "perfect find." The hobby might dictate vacation venues, and time and money investments.

It might be considered an addiction, or an obsession.

Kauffman's typical response when he finds that vintage Coca-Cola, slot or condom machine? When he stumbles upon an old sign, "Buddy Lee" doll or pedal car?

"How much?" he said.

Kauffman said he has gone to great lengths to support his Coke habit.

He travels to Canada, Maine, Florida and places in between to search for additions to his collection. He frequents estate sales and auctions. He haunts small town general stores, and rents U-Hauls to tote his treasures home.

Kauffman's house is wired with an elaborate alarm system to protect his mushrooming collection of vintage Coca-Cola and other products. He said he has more than 4,000 items, but wants more.

"That's not even the tip of the iceberg," he said. "I want everything."

He plans to build an addition onto his house.

Kauffman said his hobby is "very expensive," but adding to his burgeoning Coca-Cola collection is like "putting money in the bank."

And he loves doing it.

"There's nothing like the excitement of finding something you don't have," said Kauffman. "It's an adrenaline rush. If there's something I want bad enough, I'll pay what I need to pay to get it."

Mary E. D'Andrea paid $250 for one of the small, stuffed toys.

She is a collector.

"Sometimes, I'll pay a higher price," said the soon-to-be-retired General Motors employee, who lives with her husband, David, and some 300 Beanie Babies, in a home near Martinsburg, W.Va. "It depends how much I want it."

The cradle in which four of her granddaughters have slept now holds Beanie Babies. There are baskets filled with Beanie Babies; furniture topped with Beanie Babies; and shelves, cabinets and tables lined with plastic-encased Beanie Babies.

"Yes, it's an obsession," said D'Andrea.

"I got her some for her birthday," said David D'Andrea. "It started a fever."

When Mary D'Andrea unwrapped Bessie the Cow and Legs the Frog in October 1997, "I was so excited I could hardly breathe," she said.

From that moment on, D'Andrea has been hooked.

"I even get excited when I talk about them," she said.

Like Kauffman, D'Andrea's collecting habit is an integral part of her life.

After D'Andrea and her husband retire from General Motors on Feb. 26, "We'll spend our retirement looking for Beanie Babies," she said.

She said she tailors trips to coincide with Beanie Baby shows. She tracks Beanie Babies' statuses through catalogues. She keeps her eyes open for the stuffed toys wherever she is.

She waits in long lines.

"I stood in line for three hours at the Martinsburg Mall for my Peace Bear," said D'Andrea. She said she arrived at the mall at 5:30 a.m., and waited in line until the doors opened at 7 a.m. "Then everybody started running to the store," said D'Andrea. "They gave us numbers, and I got the last Peace Bear."

D'Andrea has 22 bears- the Beanie Babies she said are most collectible.

"I really believe the bears will hold their value and keep going up," she said.

D'Andrea said she paid $250 for Libearty the American Flag Teddy over a year ago. It is now worth $500, she said. Though Libearty is her most valuable Beanie, it is not her favorite.

"My favorite is Princess," said D'Andrea.

The purple bear with the embroidered rose on its chest rests against a 24-inch Princess Diana doll in a glass case.

"I waited and waited and waited for that thing," said D'Andrea.

The excitement is palpable in children that have seen her collection, said D'Andrea. But the hundreds of Beanie Babies in baskets and cases are not meant for play.

"Children would play with them and mess them up," said D'Andrea. "I wouldn't dare play with them." She said she has some "spares" she shares with kids who come over.

Though most of today's children could easily identify the members of D'Andrea's collection, many kids are flabbergasted by the products in Kauffman's basement, he said.

"Most kids nowadays have never gotten a soda out of a machine where they've had to open the case and pop the top," said Kauffman.

All the machines in Kauffman's basement, and the Westinghouse soda machine in his shop, are stocked, and he said kids and adults alike "get a big kick" out of dropping dimes for bottled Dr. Pepper, Nehi and Cheerwine.

His favorite soda?

Pepsi, he said.

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