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Calling all Pezheads: New exhibit at Holyoke Children’s Museum showcases colorful candy dispensers

  • Susan Kelley, executive director of the Holyoke Children’s Museum, stands with the PEZ collection and display. For the Recorder/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The PEZ collection and display at the Holyoke Children’s Museum. For the Recorder/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Some of the many PEZ dispensers that were donated to the Holyoke Children’s Museum and are now on display. For the Recorder/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Some of the many PEZ dispensers that were donated to the Holyoke Children’s Museum and are on display. For the Recorder/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The PEZ collection and display at the Holyoke Children’s Museum. For the Recorder/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Susan Kelley, executive director of the Holyoke Children’s Museum, stands with the PEZ collection and display. For the Recorder/CAROL LOLLIS



For the Recorder
Wednesday, July 04, 2018

At the Holyoke Children’s Museum, visitors will notice an unusual exhibit, a display case housing more than 400 PEZ dispensers, both new and vintage.

The collection, which includes around 3,000 pieces in total, was donated by the family of the late Marilyn Elise Hilyard Nichols, a California resident originally from La Grande, Ore. Later in life, Nichols retired as a judge and in her spare time amassed the collection, which her daughter promised to donate to a children’s museum. After being turned away at two California museums, Nichols’ daughter, Kristen Nichols, came upon the opportunity in Holyoke.

The display case, funded in part by a donation from the Nichols family, houses an array of familiar faces in the form of colorful dispensers, some still in their original packaging, others faded by time. In the middle of the shelf are Casper the Friendly Ghost and two Uncle Sams, one in a miniature size. These three are believed to be the most valuable, as the models with no feet on the bottom are the oldest — circa the 1960s.

But the museum has no plans to get a formal appraisal, as the pieces are irreplaceable. The museum’s executive director, Susan Kelley, said the PEZ collection has already garnered attention.

“Little did I know there were so many collectors in the world,” she said. “I had a few people come in and give me a lot of insight into what was the most valuable.”

More recent treasures include a Hello Kitty collection and dispensers in the likenesses of the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the characters created by Northampton’s Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.

When Kelley was contacted about the collection, she didn’t think twice about the chance to add this unusual exhibit, which has major child appeal — come on, it’s cartoons and candy. Just last month, a fourth-grader in New York City curated his own PEZ exhibit at a Brooklyn Public Library outpost in his neighborhood.

“The kids are fascinated,” Kelley said of the Holyoke Children’s Museum display. “There’s superheroes and ninja turtles, and the adults go back to the Flintstones.”

Plenty of adult “Pezheads” are out there as well. There’s a long-running PEZ collectors’ club that calls itself the The Fliptop Pezervation Society. Newsletters, meet-up groups, and even special sea cruise outings abound. There are trading cards and special collections like the USA Presidential PEZ Series, which some might say missed a great opportunity to brand itself as “Pezidential.”

For the unfamiliar, PEZ Candy has a notable origin story: In 1927, it was invented by Eduard Haas III as a substitute for smoking. According to the company’s website, “PEZ” “comes from the German word for peppermint, ‘PfeffErminZ.’”

In 1952, PEZ found its way to the United States, and around two decades later, the company built its first candy manufacturing facility in Orange, Conn., which now includes a visitor center where people can view “the largest, most comprehensive collection of PEZ memorabilia on public display in the world.”

It begs the question: Are there still bigger private displays out there?