Bruce Buffum was laid up in bed with pneumonia. His wife, Stephanie, brought him a gift — a set of Barbie-themed Pez dispensers.
“She said she wished she had taken a picture because I brightened up,” Buffum recalled.
“I said, ‘Oh, the Barbies!’ It wasn’t all that manly.”
Call it what you want, but it was therapeutic.
Stephanie “prescribed” something guaranteed to make her husband feel better. She is, after all, married to a Pez collector.
Brick-shaped tablets, Pez candies have been around since their 1927 creation in Austria. Originally, Pez was intended as an alternative to smoking. Now, with locations in Orange, Connecticut, and Traun, Austria, Pez distributes approximately 70 million dispensers and 5 billion candies annually to more than 80 countries worldwide.
It’s not the candy that seduces Pez collectors from around the globe. It’s the dispensers.
The first Pez dispenser was introduced 70 years ago. In decades since, just about every character imaginable has been transformed into a Pez dispenser, including Transformers.
Buffum’s collection includes more than 1,000 Pez dispensers. They bring him joy. He told a story about how his parents used to slip Pez dispensers into family Christmas stockings.
“I really like Christmas, and I loved the stockings and waiting for the gifts, waiting for my parents to wake up to be able to open presents,” he said. “And they would always take their time. But they let us open our stockings first.”
The stockings might have oranges and nuts in them. And, often, you could find a Pez dispenser in there with them.
Buffum was asked if his collection takes him back to that time period.
“Oh, yeah,” he said.
Buffum said his love of Pez grew over the years, which led to a Pez population explosion in his home. He pulled hundreds of Pez dispensers out of storage to arrange a temporary display for a photographer who paid a recent visit. The dispensers covered most of the couch. Many other dispensers occupied space in front of or near the couch, but a large plastic bag was still stuffed with items from his collection.
Positive: Buffum said he’s easy to buy for at gift-giving time. Just get him a new Pez item. That’s what family members have done in the past.
Negative: What’s he going to do with all of this stuff?
There was a time when Buffum said he would buy a new set of Pez dispensers every time he saw them.
“My heart does race when I see one I don’t have,” he said. “That’s why I know I shouldn’t go to a Pez convention.” (Probably, no one should tell him about the PEZheads at Sea cruise in September — and yes, that’s a real thing.)
Buffum’s Pez fever is under control for the time being. He went a couple of years without buying any Pez items — at least as far as anybody knows — before succumbing to temptation about a month ago. He said he has gotten a little picky because Pez was more affordable when he first started.
A Santa Claus dispenser was one of the first dispensers Buffum found in his stocking as a child. He wishes he still had an old-school dispenser of a hand holding an eyeball (it debuted in 1968). He said his first Pez dispensers are long gone, but he wishes he had kept them because they have monetary value. His wife got him a replica of the hand holding an eyeball. He said she enables him. When they walk by Pez at a store, she sometimes says, “You didn’t see those, did you?”
Buffum’s collection includes a series of U.S. presidents (the line was christened in 2011), a KISS gift set and an Elvis Presley gift set. His dispensers are cartoon characters, superheroes, vehicles and characters from movies and TV shows.
“Some of these, I haven’t even seen the movie, so I don’t know who they are,” he said.
During an interview, Buffum said, “My Little Kitty, when he meant to reference his Hello Kitty items. Really, the names don’t matter. What matters is the way those Pez dispensers make him feel.
“It’s like a toy when you are a kid,” his wife said.
Kristin Mackey, a longtime friend of the family, was scanning Buffum’s collection and said, “Oh! Strawberry Shortcake!”
Said Stephanie: “See what I mean?”
Buffum wonders if the time will arrive when he should share the love. Per the current arrangement, the only people who see his collection are himself and occasional guests. He took Pez to school with him before he retired from teaching. He once loaned his collection so it could be displayed at a children’s ward at a local hospital. Unless a grandchild wants the collection, he may consider donating the collection to a children’s hospital or charitable organization.
“It would have to be for a feel-good cause,” he said.
Feel good? Buffum said his favorite item in the collection is the Barbie Pez his wife got him when he was battling pneumonia. She had planned on giving him the Barbie set for his birthday, but, considering the circumstances, she presented it to him early.
“It was interesting because it perked him right up,” she said.
Who’s who: Pez through the years
Which characters or companies have been immortalized on Pez dispensers over the years? This is by no means a complete list. It’s moreso a sampling culled from the official Pez site, us.pez.com:
1949: The first Pez dispensers, manufactured in various colors, are introduced.
1955: Pez dispensers are made in the shapes of robots and Santa Claus.
1956: A Halloween-colored Pez dispenser debuts with an illustration of a witch riding a broom. Space gun Pez dispensers also appear.
1958: Popeye becomes the first licensed character to get the Pez treatment.
1960: Bozo the Clown and Casper become Pez characters.
1961: Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck join the Pez roster. So do an elephant and a donkey, in case you want a Pez dispenser that represents your political party.
1962: Pinocchio is added to the Pez stable.
1963: New additions include Pluto and Bullwinkle.
1964: Pez gets sporty with the addition of a football player dispenser and baseball-themed dispensers.
1965: The classic Universal Studios monsters and Zorro become Pez dispensers.
1966: Batman got a TV series and became a Pez in the same year.
1967: The Green Hornet and Disney characters (Baloo, Mowgli, King Louie, Dopey, Snow White) are new additions.
1968: It’s the swinging ’60s. New pop art Pez dispensers are named “psychedelic flowers” and “psychedelic hands.” (The hands hold an oversized eyeball.)
1969: Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Tinkerbell become Pez dispensers.
1973: Jiminy Cricket and Mary Poppins debut.
1974: Characters from the French cartoon “Asterisk” get the Pez treatment.
1975: Betsy Ross, Daniel Boone and Uncle Sam are among new dispensers.
1977: Dumbo and Scrooge McDuck join the Pez fraternity.
1978: The Marvel Age of Pez arrives with the introduction of Hulk, Thor, Captain America and Spider-Man. Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and other Warner Bros. characters also are among new Pez on the block.
1979: “Soft head” Pez dispensers debut. Among the characters: Wonder Woman, Batman, the Joker, the Penguin and various monsters.
1980: Rookies include Droopy Dog, Barney Bear, Foghorn Leghorn, Wile E Coyote and Tom & Jerry.
1984: The video game era is acknowledged with the addition of Donkey Kong Jr.
1986: And here come the Smurfs.
1987: A “Stand By Me” movie premium Pez dispenser is introduced.
1990: It’s about time, Charlie Brown (and Lucy). Say hello to Garfield, too.
1991: Muppets! Fozzy Bear, Kermit and Miss Piggy are in the Pez club.
1993: Meet the Flintstones.
1994: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Collect ‘em all.
1997: Characters from Star Wars and Pink Panther are added.
1998: The Star Wars roll-out continues with additional characters, including Ewoks and Boba Fett.
1999: Marvel’s Wolverine makes his Pez debut.
2000: Characters from “The Simpsons” and “Bugz” are honored with Pez dispensers. An eBay Pez dispenser also is introduced.
2001: The Pokemon craze reaches Pez.
2002: E.T. and NBA teams join the Pez roster.
2003: Who wants a Pez dispensed by a NASCAR vehicle?
2004: Newbies include characters from SpongeBob Squarepants, the Incredibles, the Lion King and Shrek.
2005: Bratz, Hello Kitty, Madagascar and Safari Babies characters are introduced.
2006: Walmart truck, “Cars” and college football Pez dispensers are in the new crop.
2007: An Elvis Presley gift set is among new offerings, along with “Golden Compass,” “Bee Movie” and a best-of-Pixar collection.
2008: Chick-fil-A, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Mulan” and “Kung Fu Panda” are new, but who can resist a “Star Trek” gift set?
2010: Ben 10 and characters from “The Wizard of Oz” are introduced.
2011: Pez launches a U.S. president series and unveils a “Lord of the Rings” collector set, along with “Phineas and Ferb” characters.
2012: KISS and Barbie gift tins hit the market.
2013: “The Hobbit” gift set is among new products.
2014: A “Scooby-Doo” gift set arrives.
2015: The new class includes Transformers, My Little Pony characters and a Harry Potter gift set.
2016: A WWE gift set and a “Finding Dory” gift set are in the new wave.
2017: Emojis arrive. (You knew they would.) So do Trolls and the Guardians of the Galaxy.
2018: “Stranger Things,” Black Panther and Ant-Man join the Pez club. Speaking of strange, Poop Emoji and Rainbow Poop Emoji become Pez dispensers.
2019: Whataburger, Captain Marvel, Thanos, Aladdin and Funko Pops are initiated into the Pez club.
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