Former owner of bottling company keeps Coca-Cola memories alive

Junction City family's collection could fetch a pretty penny

? Coca Cola memorabilia have long been highly sought-after collectibles. People search the Internet and antique stores and often pay high dollar for a piece of Coke history.

The Lundeen family in Junction City has a large collection. Coke collecting has been a tradition of theirs, but maybe not for the same reasons other collectors search for the familiar red and white signature.

Charles, left, and Donna Lundeen show some of the many items in their Coca-Cola memorabilia collection recently in Junction City, such as their Coke machine, which is still in working order from the 1940s, and Coke glasses from the 1960s. The Lundeens owned their local Coca-Cola bottling company for many years in Junction City.

Donna Lundeen grew up with Coke, literally. Her grandfather John Will Deppish purchased a “soda water” company in 1901 and called it “Crown Bottling Works.”

At that time, Coca Cola was already a popular drink in Junction City as it had been sold at Sargents Drug Store since the 1890s.

As demand for Coke increased in the growing town, Deppish took advantage of the opportunity and in 1916 started bottling the popular beverage.

In 1920, the Crown Bottling Company became the Coca-Cola Bottling Company.

As Donna grew up with Coca Cola, her husband, Charles, was introduced to it when he was 18 years old and started working on the production line in 1951.

Moving up through the ranks, he was elected president of the local bottling company in 1976.

Over the years, marketing promotions, advertisements, coke bottles and many other pieces of memorabilia began getting stored away.

A devastating fire in 1977, in the attic of the Ninth Street warehouse, destroyed what Donna and Charles now know would have been a valuable collection of memorabilia. Among the items lost were Coca Cola Santas, which today would have been worth a pretty penny.

“We lost a lot,” Charles said.

But, not everything. The couple still has an extensive collection, much of which they are now trying to sell.

However, there are some things they plan to keep some forever, some until the right price is offered.

“I’ve got Coca Cola rifles,” Charles said. “Those were available to dealers only. When I bought them through the gun dealer 10 years ago, he wanted to buy them right then.”

Among their collectibles are a variety of bottles, including ones that are stamped “J.W. Deppish Bottling Co.” and some made by Liberty Glass for the Coca Cola annual conventions. Those, Donna said, are quite rare.

In the front window of the family’s floral shop, there is a display that includes two of the large porcelain “bullets” or “bull’s eyes,” which they estimate to be from around 1945. Those carry price tags of $500 for the small and $2,500 for the large.

The window display also features two coolers from the 1950s that run $200 to $300 and are in working condition.

Another rare item they have is a collection of Olympic pins that were issued to dealers before some of the countries pulled out of the Olympics. Coca Cola reissued the set without countries that had withdrawn, but the Lundeens still have the original set.

Charles said he began to realize in the 1960s that much of the merchandise the company was producing would eventually have value to collectors.

“Things we bought for $25 or $30 are $400, $500 now,” Charles said.

Popular these days are the Coca Cola polar bears, though Donna said she doesn’t believe they will be worth too much because Coca Cola “snowballed the market with them,” she said.

The same rings true with the tree ornaments, which Donna said she thinks will not appreciate for at least 10-12 years.

As Coca Cola comes out with more collectible series, she and Charles recommend that anyone interested in collecting purchase the first in any series.

“The first is always the hardest to find later,” Charles said.