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I’m Your Biggest Fan: Inside Coca-Cola treasures worth over $100,000 and a private Coke bar

A recognised brand calls for a big collection

We all want to care about things, but the superfan goes to lengths that far surpass the regular fan.

For eons we’ve worshipped at the altars of sports stars, pop stars, actors, fictional characters, collectables, art, cars, and just about anything else we can relate to, that we can buy, that we can love and share with others.

Also known as a ‘fanatic’ (but, let’s face it, ‘fan’ is much more sexy), these superfans have travelled the globe to support their chosen love, spent hundreds of thousands on merchandise, altered their body in dramatic ways, some have even changed their names – and we’ve tracked down the most die-hard and dedicated to telling their story.

Each week we’ll bring you the story of one keen punter who has dedicated their life and time (and money, so.much.money) to supporting someone or something – simply because it brings them immeasurable joy.

And that’s what life’s about, right? Say hi to Metro.co.uk’s super fun superfan weekly series, I’m Your Biggest Fan.

For most people, their collection neatly fits into their lives and existing homes (and spare rooms in many a case) but for Dan Thielmann he built his whole basement around his Coca-Cola collection.

Welcome to the Coca-Cola basement (Picture: Dan Thielmann)
His collection has been featured on TV (Picture: Dan Thielmann)

Installing 63 electrical outlets, floor to ceiling, for his neon signs and array of vending machines and radios, the Chicago-native has created a Coca-Cola den in the family home.

Dan started collecting seriously in the 80s, after finding a love of procuring old advertisements. Now he’s got a collection to rival the best and has been featured on the US Collectors Call series.

So, Dan, what got you into collecting anything and everything Coca-Cola?

When it came to collecting, if it was old and brought me back to when I was growing up, I wanted it.

I didn’t start collecting Coca-Cola ‘til later. My first purchase was a vending machine for $15 (£11) I put it in the trunk of my 1976 Monte Carlo and put it in my mum and dad’s garage.

I got the keys to it and it had $2.50 (£1.90) in nickels in it, so I actually got it for $12.50 (£9.60).

A couple of years later a friend of mine told me about someone who had three display cases of Coca-Cola stuff and that was the thing that got me started, seeing all the Coke and the colours. Something bit right there and from then on anytime I went to a flea market or garage sale I’d look for that red.

His first purchase (Picture: Dan Thielmann)

You grow up drinking it and you realise the history and how old it is. They were definitely ahead of their time in advertising, they put their name on everything from the early 1900s, they’re the most recognised logo in the world without a doubt.

How long until you knew your collection was something serious?

Within probably five years of getting the bug of actually going to conventions and seeing what other collectors had. When you collect Coca-Cola memorabilia some people specialise in just bottles, or signs, or trays. I always try to collect different things, in the best possible condition, near mint.

How many items do you think you have?

I don’t have the best collection in the United States, or even Illinois, but I would say a couple of thousand pieces. I have a lot not on display because my walls and cases are filled.

He has 63 outlets to power all the signs (Picture: Dan Thielmann)
Dan and his wife at a convention back in the 80s (Picture: Dan Thielmann)

Have you calculated how much you’ve spent on memorabilia?

I started collecting in the 80s when things were a little cheaper so today it would be a lot more. I would say I’ve spent $30,000-35,000 (£23,000-£27,000), but my collection was valued somewhere between $75,000-$100,000 (£58,000-£77,000).

What’s the most you’ve spent on any one item?

There’s a vending machine that I probably paid $800 (£620) for, in the late 80s, which was a lot of money for me back then. I was already married and I had a daughter, so once you get married and you have kids then the money is not there to spend on the Coca-Cola collectables.

He has quite the truck collection (Picture: Dan Thielmann)

What I would do would find things at garage sales and stuff I didn’t want in my collection but knew I could turn around and sell, so you either trade or sell that and take it to buy nicer things at the conventions, you try to upgrade stuff.

My Coke light-up sign, I bought for $15 (£11). The seller said he had 17 more of them and he’d give them to be for $4.50 (£3) if I bought them all. The first sign I put in auction went for $150 (£116).

What’s the most you’ve ever spent?

My most valuable piece is my Coca-Cola bottle radio from 1933. It’s one of the holy grails of Coca-Cola collectors. Everybody wants to have that radio but there’s not enough of them around.

And to have it in working condition, it’s in great condition. I traded it for about 20 trucks out of my collection. At the time the radio was worth $3,000 (£2,300), I wasn’t spending that. I had trucks I could always replace at $600 (£465) at a time, but I might never have this opportunity to get the bottle radio again.

The famous Bottle Radio (Picture: Dan Thielmann)

And it’s all in your basement, right?

There’s 63 outlets in my basement to plug things in, there are outlets in the floor and in the ceiling without having cords and power strips everywhere. It seemed ridiculous at the time when I was putting them in, but it definitely paid off.

It’s not lit up all the time, so the electrical bill isn’t bad. When we’re going to have a party we’ll fill the Coke machines and plug it in and have it working.

What do you get from collecting – apart from, you know, the actual items?

As you go along you realise you collected all these great friends as well.

Both my children learned how’s to walk at Coca-Cola conventions, four years apart, because they were always with us at the events.

To me, it’s the friendships, that’s the biggest thing. Plus there’s a passion you don’t lose and if I do lose it I think it will change things.

I’m Your Biggest Fan is a weekly series that deep dives into the world of fandoms, via the people who worship the hardest. Check back in next Thursday to check out the latest aficionado.

MORE: I’m Your Biggest Fan: Dedicated Pink superfan drives car covered with images of pop star and husband Carey Hart

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