Enjoying Coca-Cola in more ways than one

Venaas displays large Coke collection in garage


Over the years, the Coca-Cola Company has used many catchy phrases to sell their product. In their first year, 1886, they used “Drink Coca-Cola.” Later it was “Enjoy Coca-Cola." In 1971, their slogan, "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke," got the world singing the jingle. In 1990, they advertised with "Can't Beat the Real Thing," and "Make it Real" is their current slogan for 2005.

But what about “Collect Coca-Cola?” Although the last slogan has never been used for advertising Coca-Cola, Fargo, N.D., resident Kevin Venaas knows all about it.

Venaas’ garage is nearly covered from floor to ceiling with Coke memorabilia. There are eight antique Coke machines across the garage floor. All but one are still in working order. Due to lack of room in the garage, Venaas stores a ninth machine elsewhere. The collection of machines alone brings Venaas’ total to nine. He also displays four metal Coke coolers in the garage.

What makes Venaas’ Coke machines unique is that he didn’t need to do any extensive repairs to restore them to their current condition. “I’ve done nothing to them but clean them off and wax them a little bit,” Venaas said. It was one of his 1940s Coke machines that started Venaas’ collection. After seeing the machine at an auction seven or eight years ago, he began seriously collecting Coke items. “I just had a feeling it would increase in value,” Venaas said. His collection has grown largely since then. He has already run out of room.

The walls are covered with red and white metal and porcelain Coke signs that reflect time periods from the 1930s to the present. Some signs hang from the ceiling; others plaster the walls with slogans and advertising campaigns. The items come from across the nation—the farthest away being Laughlin, Nevada. A sharp eye notices a few Pepsi, 7 UP, Mobil and beer signs around the room.

Venaas’ garage only holds part of his Coke collection. He already keeps more items in a second storage building. To find items for his collection, Venaas, a life-long collector of things such as beer and oil signs, attends swap meets, auctions and flea markets. “It’s just something to do in the summer,” Venaas said.

He said he rarely uses eBay because he enjoys hunting for collectables using traditional methods. Although he has a few more modern plastic signs, Venaas prefers Coke items that say “Drink Coke,” and metal, rustic and older-looking ones. He said he likes round buttons displaying Coke slogans.

Venaas has Coke buttons that range in size from one to four feet. His most valued item is a Coke fountain service sign from 1939 that is worth a couple thousand dollars. Venaas is one of the few collectors in the area who gathers Coke items. “I’ve never really met anyone who’s into (collecting) the pop stuff,” he said.

This doesn’t mean there is a lack of people who admire his collection. Venaas remembers a mild-weathered Saturday when he had crowds of people visit and ask if they could look at the collection in his garage . Venaas said the garage was so full of people that some had to wait out on the driveway for a while before they could sneak a peek at the collection.

Venaas said his family is always on the lookout for new Coke items. He usually receives a collectable as a gift at Christmas or on his birthday. Venaas said he doesn’t trade or sell any of his items. He said he’ll consider selling the items only after he retires. By that time, he said he hopes that younger generations will develop a similar interest in Coke collectables. Venaas said the popular item right now for Coke collectors is the chest-style pop machine.

“They all want them for their garage or basement,” Venaas said. Venaas’ garage has played host to numerous family and social events. He said he plans to use the room for his daughter’s graduation this summer. Venaas is known as an avid Coke collector, but everyone wonders if he drinks it too? “If I’m not drinking Mountain Dew, it’s Coke,” he said.