Collector Gives New Life to Old Coke Machines : Memorabilia: Eddie Hatch of Simi Valley buys rusting relics for as little as $200 and sells them for up to $4,500 a pop.
Ray Charles may have the right one, baby, but Eddie Hatch prefers the real thing.
In Hatch’s Simi Valley home is a collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia, from a World War II sewing kit to soda fountain signs dating to 1903. Valued by its owner at about $35,000, the collection of mementos was accumulated at flea markets and collectibles fairs during the last eight years.
But it is the graveyard of rusting Coke machines in his yard that sets Hatch’s collection apart. He resurrects them.
Vending machines restored by Hatch have made their way into some exclusive quarters, including those of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
“He’s definitely an artisan. He brings the machines back from something old and rough to something that looks like it’s right off the showroom floor,” said John Passage, president of Classic Distributors, a Torrance beverage firm that has sold Hatch’s machines to film and sports celebrities.
“They’re the best original machines on the market,” Passage said. “My customers are willing to wait up to a year or more to get one of them.”
Hatch, 52, did not set out to be a collector of the cola maker’s advertising gimmicks when he went antique hunting in the Central Valley in 1983. He was searching for antique gas station pumps to restore.
A Fresno antique dealer showed him some meticulously restored Coke machines. “I decided the heck with gas pumps and started collecting Coke stuff,” he said.
Hatch is handy with sheet metal after 30 years as an auto body repairman. He left the field and became a Teamsters truck driver in 1987, transporting wardrobe and dressing room trailers to movie locations. But he keeps a hand in his former craft by doing bodywork on Coke machines.
Hatch estimates that he has restored about 200 vending machines, manufactured circa 1933 to 1957. At present, his back yard is home to 22 uprights and 17 chests in various stages of disrepair. Buyers have claimed the entire lot, putting down deposits before the restoration is even begun.
As a master of the craft, Hatch is quick to note the difference between “restored” and “reconditioned” machines.
Reconditioning often involves little more than repainting the outside of the machine and scrubbing out the inside. Hatch strips his machines to their shells, chemically strips their interiors to bare metal, and has inside shelves and other metal pieces sandblasted and recoated in blue zinc. Then he disassembles, cleans and rewires the fan and compressor units, cleans and adjusts the coin mechanisms, and silk-screens the lettering onto the repainted machines rather than just slapping on decals.
The unrefurbished machines cost Hatch between $200 and $1,500. He says he sells the restored models for $2,800 to $4,500.
The Vendo 44 commands the greatest price because it is narrow and compact, traits valued by collectors who display the machines in their homes. Hatch said he pays $1,200 to $1,500 for the tattered Vendo 44s, sinks $500 in materials and 60 hours of work into restoration and sells them for $4,500. The same machine, reconditioned, was recently advertised in the Sharper Image catalogue for $7,700.
Hatch said he was contacted by Passage in 1989 about restoring models for Reagan and Bush. He said he sold Reagan a flip-top chest model for $2,800. Bush got an upright with a narrow glass-door dispenser for $3,000.
“I gave them a good price,” Hatch said.
Compared to some of his fellow members of Coca-Cola Collectors Club International, a 6,000-member association, Hatch has a modest memorabilia collection. He has no 85-year-old cardboard signs that some collectors plunk down $6,000 to acquire.
But his collection fills an entire bedroom, vacated by one of his grown children, that now looks like an old soda fountain. Among the contents are ice chests, jugs, syrup dispensers, a restaurant menu board, thermometers, clocks, an Army sewing kit bearing the words “Compliments of Coca-Cola” and a 1903 brass crosswalk marker reading “Coca-Cola, Safety First.”
Hatch said some of the best buys in his collection include a 1949 radio emblazoned with the Coke insignia, a 1950s picnic cooler never removed from its original box, and a bag of 1,000 cork-lined bottle caps from the late 1950s. Hatch said the radio, purchased three years ago for $400, is now worth between $1,200 and $1,500. The $35 picnic cooler is worth $500 to $600, he said. Hatch has sold about 400 of the bottle caps, which he bought for $50, for $1 each.
Hatch is in the process of restoring a machine that will be shipped to a buyer in Pennsylvania. After that, he hopes to find time to restore one for himself--and then keep it.
“People come over to see which of the old machines they might want, and they end up begging me to sell them mine,” Hatch said. “I must have sold at least a dozen of my own machines out of my house.”