Every once and a while, doing my research for Collectors Weekly overviews, I stumble across a fact that makes my jaw drop.
Writing about gumball machines, I came across this doozy: In the U.S., there are about half a dozen serious collectors of gum, and more than one serious enough to pay $350 for a stick of Colgan’s Taffy Tolu Chewing Gum, dating from 1900 to 1910.
Hey, hold your ew! Unchewed 100-year-old gum is not gross the way the vintage “ABC” gum found on Seattle’s Gum Wall or San Luis Obispo’s Bubblegum Alley is. Here’s the full story, found in the unassuming “Pocket Guide to Coin-op Vending Machines,” by John Carini. The author is quoting coin-op machine collector, Paul Hindin.
“A fellow collector and I got a lead on a National Colgan’s Taffy Tolu gum vendor from a Chicago dealer who had found it in an old barn. We decided rather than try to outbid each other, we would make a fair bid and purchase the machine together. Please with our $2,000 purchase, I took it home and opened it up and cleaned it. I was pleasantly surprised to find seventeen sticks of Colgan’s Taffy Tolu Chewing Gum inside.
“In the past I had found other sticks of chewing gum, and they sometimes brought as much as $35 per stick. However, this gum was a mystery to me. So I called up the most knowledgeable man in the industry, Bill Enes. When I told Bill what I had found there was a long pause on the phone. He asked, ‘Are you sure?’ Bill then told me he wasn’t certain of the value, but suggested I not let them go individually for less than $350 per stick—then offered to buy all seventeen sticks!
“Bill provided me with the names of some serious gum collectors to contact if I was interested in selling. There are about a half dozen serious gum collectors here in the U.S., and about two dozen not-as-serious collectors. Each collector I called couldn’t wait to get their hands on a few sticks of this mystery gum, as none of them had this brand in their collection. In the end, my partner and I sold thirteen sticks of the gum for $300 to $350 each, making a $4,000 profit without even selling the machine!”
This book was copyright in 2002, and it appears that since this startling discovery, the excitement over Taffy Tolu has died down. On May 30, 2009, a lot of four sticks of this same turn-of-the-century gum went for a measly $300, or $75 a pop, through Morphy Auctions. Still, collectors — it never hurts to look inside your vending machines and mechanical banks to see what gum, coins, paper currency, and other surprises they may hold. I wouldn’t bother with the gum stuck under a school desk, though.
Tell us: Do you have a story of finding hidden treasures?