Dear Helaine and Joe: I have these two Coke trays. I will surely sell them if they are of any value. — H.W., Wenatchee, Wash.
Dear H.W.: Back in February we answered a letter about some Coca-Cola bank checks and shortly thereafter began receiving a flood of letters about other Coke memorabilia. We received inquiries about everything from bottles to wallets, but the largest number of these letters (about 50) concerned serving trays exactly like the ones that belong to H.W.
The ubiquitous beverage originated in 1886, but the first serving tray decorated with the company's colorful advertising was not made until 1897. It is round, approximately 9 1/4 inches in diameter, and is sometimes called "The Victorian Girl" or "Victorian Lady" tray.
This piece features the image of a Victorian woman seated at a table, drinking a glass of Coca-Cola. The center image is circular and around it are the words "Coca-Cola" at top and bottom and "Refreshing" on the left and "Delicious" on the right.
If you happen to have one of these in your attic in tip-top condition, it is worth over $15,000 at retail! Most importantly, however, we found no indication that this particular tray had ever been reproduced after that year.
Other Coca-Cola serving trays also can be very expensive. The 1899 (which has been reproduced) should be valued at $10,000, the 1908 "topless girl" at about the same value, and the 1903 at about $6,000 if they are in pristine condition. These numbers sound wonderful, but it should be understood that trays that are rusted, dented, scratched and/or scraped have greatly diminished values and even rare examples in poor condition can only command modest prices.
The trays belonging to H.W. have an image that first appeared on Coke trays in 1923. It was on a rectangular version that was 10 1/2 inches by 13 1/4 inches, and one of these should be valued at about $425 to $500 in pristine condition.
Rectangular Coca-Cola trays originated in 1910, and this shape became the norm over the next 50 plus years. Before that, Coke serving trays were either round or oval. This means that H.W.'s trays with the 1923 image on them should be rectangular to be correct, but they are oval, and this makes them what Coca-Cola collectors call "fantasy" items.
A reproduction is the remaking of an item that once existed, but a Coca-Cola "fantasy" piece is an object that never existed in an old form and never was made by or for the Coca-Cola Co. The oval version offered by H.W. was made in the early 1970s and is now worth about $15 in perfect condition. There is also a round version made in the 1980s that is currently worth only about $10 at retail.
Helaine Fendelman is feature editor at Country Living magazine, and Joe Rosson writes about antiques at The Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee. Questions can by mailed to them at P.O. Box 12208, Knoxville, TN 37912-0208