Thursday, July 2, 2009

No "pez' between Pez Co. and Burlingame Museum

For many years a couple of hardcore pez candy aficionados ("Pezheads" to those in the know) operated and maintained a large collection of pez dispensers and memorabilia in a little store front south of San Francisco in the town of Burlingame. The dedication started and still stands as a labor of Pezhead love. More than a decade ago, I myself was something of a Pezhead and part of the official Pezhead email distribution list. The museum owners we also on this list.

Say what you will about people, most of which were middle age adults, who elect to revolve their waking lives around a candy dispenser, but the one thing all the Pezheads shared was burning passion for their dispensers and trying to obtain as many as they could. And this was a time when "new" dispensers were uncommonly produced by Pez USA (which was an entirely separate company from the Pez Co that was still based in Austria). Before there were 100 different kinds of NASCAR Pez. When Pez purposefully avoided putting "realistic" human heads on dispensers, before there was a really nasty looking Darth Sidious dispenser. Or this ridiculous abomination. And, what kid or collector wouldn't want an exciting Mozart Pez ? I mean, that last one's like right out of an Archie McPhee catalog.


The Pezheads behind the Burlingame Pez Museum even made what Guiness recognized as the World's Largest Pez Dispenser. These guys were serious. And in the mid-90's when Pezheads were made contact with Pez USA, the candy maker was always very friendly to its fans. I'm pretty sure they took no objection to the Burglingame Museum, and were even receptively amused by it.

The Giant Pez Dispenser that may get Joan of Arc'ed

But, my how things have changed in the last ten years (coughGreedycough). The Museum is now being sued by the Pez company over licensing infringement issues and even calls for the destruction of the giant pagan Pez god the museum proprietors created ("Thou shalt have no false Pez!")

In an ironic way, the Pezheads may have brought this upon themselves, though it was a long time in the making. Back in the mid-90's, Pezheads all over the world were clamoring for more and more Pez dispensers to be made. Pez production, particularly in North America, had really hit a lull since the 60's and 70's and while there were not too many new dispenser models released each year, it seemed Europe and often Canada would get new dispenser liness that the US was constantly not privy to (i.e. Pink Panthers, Super Mario and gang, Asterix & Obelix, just to name a few.) By the late-90's Pez finally realized they could tap into financial gains from the pent-up domestic pez demand, which started with putting dispenser heads on a variety of stem colors (instead of just one color per head), then introducing florescent colored stems, and then introducing a limited-time premium dispenser, which Pezheads could obtain through mail order. [I actually like the premium promotion because the dispensers were re-molds of classic dispensers like the Psychedelic Eye with Hand or the Bride & Groom.]

Anyway, Pezheads ate this stuff up. After years of it, the Pez company finally realized they had some clout they had long been without. And now you find Pez everywhere, not just in a corner fo a Michael's or CVS. Pezheads fed a monster that got out of control and is now turning on its own fan base. I'm not saying it's right, but I do see the legal merit behind Pez's claim that Burlingame cease from creating "non-licensed" materials. I just think calling for the destruction of the giant Snowman dispenser is a bit ridiculous. I suppose there isn't really anything to gain by Pez co. seizing the giant dispenser - what would they do with it?

I'd think the Burlingame guys would be able to claim it was "fan art" and not something they were trying to "dupe" people into believing was sanctioned by the Pez company. And it's not like they were making multiples and selling them. They made one and kept it in an obscure museum. Quit being so greedy and self-important, Pez Co. You're lucky enough to have had a revival of interest. Count yourself lucky and move-on. By the looks of the Museum, I don't think you're really leaving anything on the table by allowing these dedicated fans and free promoters of your product to continue doing their thing. And, if they are actually making any significant money from unlicensed T-shirts, why don't you just cut a deal with them? Or, make your own to sell to people, if you must cut the Burlingame folks out.

Thy humble Burlingame Pez Museum

Well, I'm sure the Burlingame folks are "pezzed off" over this, but it'll be interesting to see what the result of the suit is.

Read the article here

Photos used here courtesy of the Burlingame Pez Museum website.