Coenen collects plethora of PEZ


Photo courtesy of Coenen.

Huy Huynh, Multimedia Editor

This previously ran in our February 2023 print issue.

From records to comic books to baseball cards, almost everyone has that one thing they love to collect throughout their lifetime. Some make it a lifelong passion, while others are less committed to the art. 

For sophomore Johnny Coenen, collecting PEZ dispensers will forever be a significant part of his life.

Surrounded by collectors within his family since the day he was born, it’s no surprise that Coenen’s passion for collecting blossomed at a young age. His first experience with a PEZ dispenser came when he was only a year old. All his life, Coenen has been exposed to PEZ dispensers, but he started seriously collecting at around seven years old.

“I’ve been collecting since I was born. There’s videos of me [on] my first Christmas getting a Santa Pez in my stocking. But really [I wasn’t] collecting when I started. I started [truly collecting] when I was around seven or eight,” Coenen said. “My brother also collected [but] he stopped collecting and gave his collection to me when we were little.”

Ever since, his collection has grown to an impressive size. When Coenen first started out on his PEZ collecting journey, he set himself an ambitious goal of gathering 1,000 of the individual candy dispensers. A dedicated collector, Coenen has shattered his goal and is well on his way to owning double his original objective. Content with his current menagerie, he has shifted focus to collecting PEZ candy itself instead. 

“A while ago, I had the goal to reach 1,000 dispensers, but I’ve done that and now I’m at around 1,600,” Coenen said. “But I don’t really have any [more] goals; but I do have a side goal where… I’m trying to amass a super big jar filled with just PEZ candy.”

Despite his passion for collecting PEZ dispensers, Coenen isn’t a fan of the actual candy itself. What got him into collecting dispensers when he first started out was something far different than anything related to the brand. Over time, Coenen has continued to collect because he realized there was more to the world of PEZ than candy and dispensers.

“My hot take is that PEZ itself is pretty mediocre, although the orange flavor is the best. I will eat that. But the other flavors, I would rather eat anything else,” Coenen said. “I really got into it because I’m a hoarder almost. So I always want to collect something. And I’ve collected other things as well. But I think, ever since I was little, it was a very easy thing to collect. And once I got into it, and I realized there was more rare PEZ and more interesting stories to go along with each PEZ, I really got invested into it and now, here I am, with a lot of PEZ.”

Like every connoisseur, Coenen has his favorites and least favorites from his giant collection. He has accumulated every type of dispenser possible, from limited edition to antique dispensers. For many of his PEZ dispensers, he has a story to go along with it; for instance, his rare, location-exclusive PEZ dispensers.

“…I guess it’s more of like a cool story about how PEZ works, but some PEZ are exclusive to certain countries and continents, like European PEZ and Japanese PEZ and all other sorts of PEZ,” Coenen said. “And in 2018, I went to London. I was looking all around for PEZ because England had some exclusive ones. So there was like this weird marketplace and behind the counter was an entire rack of European exclusive Pez and I was just ecstatic. And then I bought around 30 dispensers and hauled them back to the US.”

Along with location exclusive PEZ, Coenen also has other extremely rare dispensers. Another one of Coenen’s most-prized dispensers is a super-rare, limited-edition golden Spongebob dispenser.

“I have plenty of rare ones, [but the] rarest one is definitely — [and] it’s gonna sound really funny — but it’s a golden SpongeBob PEZ dispenser. Back in 2020, there were new SpongeBob Pez dispensers that [were] released. The common [and] uncommon ones were easy to find. But then the super rare one, which is the golden one, there’s only 1000 made and it was just randomly in a store,” Coenen said. “I was Christmas shopping for my mom, and there’s a store in Bethlehem, a little candy store. I go in and they have the rare SpongeBob PEZ dispensers, so I bought it for $2, and if I wanted to sell it today, [I’d] probably get around $500.”

Even though the golden spongebob PEZ dispenser is Coenen’s rarest, his favorite dispenser is something entirely different: an antique Popeye the sailor dispenser he got from his mom’s friend while they were cleaning out their attic. 

With all his antique, limited, and common dispensers combined, Coenen’s collection adds up to an impressive value;  “If I sold everything, like one by one, I could probably get estimated around $10,000 to $12,000.” Despite going off to college in two years, Coenen doesn’t see himself ever stopping the hobby.

“A lot of my collection is newer stuff, but there’s also a good portion which is older and more valuable stuff,” Coenen said. “I can’t imagine selling my collection… It might be hard [to collect], of course, in the next coming few years when I go to college. I’ll probably leave my entire collection at my parents house so I’ll just see how it goes. But most likely, I’m in it forever.”

As impressive as his collection is, Coenen is still on the lookout for his holy grail: an antique Batman PEZ dispenser.

“There’s not really a specific one I’m looking for right now, but if there was one, it would be a really old Batman soft head… it’s around 1970s era, and it’s a Batman with a rubbery head and they go for upwards of $600,” said Coenen.

For Johnny Coenen, collecting PEZ has brought him a lot of great memories and joy. One of his fondest moments collecting came when he was first starting out. For those, who are looking to start collecting, 

“My happiest memories [are] when I would lay them out on the floor because I used to do that when my collection wasn’t so massive. I was able to lay [them] out on the floor by color. And I remember once I was done, I would stand back and look at [them] all and just be amazed at all of my PEZ,” Coenen said.

For those starting out, Coenen has a few tips to help make the experience enjoyable. “Don’t stress on the big dispensers. The most valuable ones in your collection don’t mean as much as the ones that you’ve really found and have good stories.”