Hobby dispenses much joy

Portland man's Pez collection among the offering at antique show

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Alan Soles’ interest in Pez dispensers began small. He was perusing a garage sale when one of the plastic candy containers caught his eye. It reminded him of his childhood, and it was only 25 cents.

“Twenty-five years later, I have 450,” Soles said of his Pez dispenser collection. It was on public display for the first time Saturday and Sunday at the Clark County Antique and Collectible Show. “They’re just so fun,” the 56-year-old Portland resident added.

Familiarity oozed from the lit-up display cases that featured Soles’ colorful dispensers. Characters from “Star Wars,” “Winnie the Pooh” and “The Wizard of Oz” topped several dispensers. Others featured Disney princesses, the face of Elvis Presley and even the GEICO gecko.

“I had a lot of these, too, I remember,” Vancouver resident Donna Crawley said Sunday as she approached the Pez display cases.

Soles’ collection is part of a hot trend among collectors right now: pop-culture nostalgia pieces for baby boomers, said Christine Palmer, the antique and collectible show’s manager. Other popular pieces include decorative items, such as furniture, prints and period lighting, estate and costume jewelry, and antique tobacco-related products, also called tobacciana.

The antique and collectible show, which featured 400 booths, attracted an estimated 6,200 people to the Clark County Events Center at the Fairgrounds, Palmer said Sunday afternoon. The show also travels to Portland and Puyallup.

The weekend show also featured antiques appraisers, who came across a couple of oil paintings that could have dated back as far as the 13th century, and a possible painting by Pablo Picasso, though well-done reproductions are common. The owners of those paintings were referred to museums for authentication, appraiser Don Jensen said Sunday.

A family hobby

Soles’ love of collecting Pez dispensers and other trinkets runs in the family. His mother collects napkin holders and his father had his fair share of toy airplanes.

“It’s a family sickness,” he joked.

His mother and sister-in-law got him started on another collection of Pink Panther items, and Soles now has a number of Pink Panther stuffed animals, ceramic figurines, a comic book, an animation celluloid from the cartoons and even a Pink Panther Pez dispenser. Beyond that, Soles also collects tiles made by Native American artist R.C. Gorman.

When it comes to Pez dispensers, part of the appeal is it’s an inexpensive hobby, Soles said, adding that most of the dispensers cost less than $1.

“The most I ever spent was $20 for these over here,” Soles said, walking toward a display case to show off two Pez dispensers, one a doctor and the other a nurse, their heads ceramic, not plastic. The variety of Pez dispensers in his collection didn’t stop there.

“Back in the ’90s, Pez became kind of a big thing,” Soles said. The company started introduced “all kinds of crazy things,” he said, including toy cars that distribute Pez candies, bobble-head Pez dispensers and ones that run on batteries — all of which are in his collection.

Soles works as a transportation aid at an Oregon hospital. At home, he displays his Pez dispensers on various shelves in his TV room.

Soles said he avoids eating the Pez candy pellets, which come in a variety of fruity flavors. He doesn’t like how they taste.

“Nobody likes the candy,” he said, laughing. “The best thing they can say about it is it’s crunchy.”

All of the items in his Pez collection were found at antique shows, thrift stores or garage sales. He could easily find many dispensers online, but that takes the fun out of it, he said.

His mother, Joyce Soles, agreed Sunday. She described shopping for collectibles as a treasure hunt.

“It’s just amazing what you find at shows,” she said. “You pick it up, and you look at it and you touch it. And it says ‘buy me.’ ”