Give Pez a Chance

There are basically two types of Pez dispenser collectors. There are the minor collectors who buy up all the characters they can find at the grocery store. Then there are the big-time collectors willing to pay thousands of dollars for those little plastic stems with goofy flip-up heads. What separates the two types isn't the number of dispensers they collect, but the type of dispensers sought out. With this in mind, Chandre McDermid is a minor collector, though you probably wouldn't believe it if you were to see the office where she stores her 350-piece collection. And neither would those folks who see Pez on Earth, the monthlong exhibit of her Pez dispensers at the Park Forest library. That is, unless they're avid Pez fans themselves.

Though 350 Pez dispensers sounds like a lot, most of McDermid's are duplicates. She collects three of each character, keeping one in the clear plastic and cardboard package, one bagged, and one unwrapped. (She keeps other duplicates for trading.) Most of hers are new, some are from the 1980s, and the oldest dates to 1968. She has all the Looney Toons, Muppets, and Star Wars characters, in addition to complete sets of Pez People, holiday characters, and clowns. Besides the traditional headed dispensers, she has key-chain Pez, jewelry Pez, a motorized dispenser, and the new Pez Petz, which are four-inch animals that dispense pieces of square, hard gum, probably the least appetizing candy next to Pez itself.

The best aspect of the exhibit is the trivia cards that McDermid has displayed next the dispensers, which tells the history of Pez -- from its inception as a German anti-smoking aid in 1927 sold in little metal tins through the 275 different heads, including 20 different versions of Mickey Mouse. McDermid also includes her collection of cardboard stand-up Pez display racks in Pez on Earth.

"Pez is a lot more fun to collect than stamps," she says. "And, you don't have to know anything to collect, not like china, where you have to know dates and brands." Next, she'll enter the world of "serious" trading by adding rare dispensers to her collection. She plans to spend her teaching paychecks online, buying Pez dispensers. Her first goal is collecting Misfits, the Pez factory mistakes, such as a red-faced snowman, a yellow Santa, and a black skull.

But for now, Pez on Earth is basically a collection of all the Pez you could have bought at Kroger over the last few years but didn't bother to grab. Pez on Earth is likely to leave Pez aficionados wanting more, especially if they expected to find a collection like the one at The Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia, which can be viewed online ( They have German Pez vending machines, metal tins containing the original peppermint candy, Dutch Pez vitamins, toy space guns that shoot Pez, and lots of dispensers from 1952 to the just-released. They even have the still-boxed "Make a Face" Pez, a Mr. Potato Head-like dispenser that was recalled because of its dangerously small facial parts; it now sells for thousands of dollars.

Casual library patrons will be interested in McDermid's collection, especially the kids, several of which were pressed against the glass cases in awe as McDermid set up shop. Fact is, it would take a lot of money and time for a private collector ever to come near the Burlingame museum's wide and varied collection, which is good, because it sounds like McDermid's office is getting pretty crowded.