By Ross Forman
He has about 3,200 Pez in his eye-popping collection … and Vucko is his favorite character to collect. Brian Jaskolski, 36, a Chicago resident, has a 20-year collection of the candy-filled kids’ collectibles that is nothing short of amazing. And Vucko is front and center.
Vucko, the mascot of the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, is a wolf, typically found in the forests of the Dinaric Alps region. Vucko, at the time, was the hero of a cartoon published in several Yugoslavian newspapers. The wolf is a prominent figure in Yugoslavian fables: he embodies courage and strength and symbolizes winter. Through his smiling, frightened or serious facial expressions, Vucko gave the wolf a rather friendly appearance and even helped to change the usually ferocious image of this animal.
“There are many different variations of him – from head color, to type of hat, to type of stem,” which is the long portion of the dispenser where the candy is held inside, said Jaskolski, who has amassed more than 50 Pez in the form of Vucko.
Jaskolski, originally from Detroit, has called Chicago home since 2013, is the president of Lakeview Global Advisors. But Pez are his true passion.
“I collect any type of dispenser made by Pez, both vintage and new dispensers,” he said days after attending a Pez convention. “The older dispensers typically have no feet on the bottom of the dispenser. In the late-1980s, Pez put feet on them, to avoid the domino effect of falling down so easily. That’s the basic rule for determining if a dispenser is older or not, (though that affect) doesn’t apply to trucks or Valentine heart dispensers; those are still produced to this day with no feet.”
He also collects Pez-affiliated items, including larger Pez vending machines (which were in train stations in Europe in the 1950s-1970s), candy refill display boxes, individual candy packs, and any type of Pez paper items (advertisements, brochures, salesmen sheets, inserts, etc.).
His Pez passion dates back to high school, when a friend collected Star Wars items, and had the Star Wars Pez dispensers.
“I liked the idea of Pez, and started looking for them on their own,” he said. “I eventually got (my friend) hooked on just Pez as well.”
And soon they were going to toy shows looking for Pez. They even drove to Windsor, Ontario (Canada) to look for international versions.
“The look on the customs officers when we came back across the border and told them we went to buy candy dispensers was always priceless,” he said, laughing.
His collection 20 years later is nothing to laugh at.
And he still has his first – from the first line of Star Wars dispensers in 1997.
His total now is approaching 3,300 though it is constantly changing as Jaskolski is constantly buying – from stores that carry new Pez, trading with friends, online sales from dealers, conventions, and eBay/Facebook groups.
“I can only imagine what my mail carrier thinks almost daily when packages, large and small, arrive on a constant basis,” he said.
Is Jaskolski Pez crazy?
Many will say, yes – even family members. But, after about two decades of collecting, most are used to it.
“When I lived in Michigan I had my collection displayed in the basement, so at least I wouldn’t freak people out when they walked through the door for the first time,” he said.
Now, his Pez are housed in a room at his North Side home.
“It used to be (stored in a) guest bedroom, but that idea of a guest bedroom went out the window when the collection grew,” he said.
Not that long ago, for fun, Jaskolski printed a cartoon picture of himself onto flat hockey puck dispensers, then gave them out to friends as a type of business card.
This past April, Jaskolski visited the Pez Visitor Center in Orange, Connecticut, where the candy is made and packaged with the dispensers, and there is a museum there, too. One of the museum displays is about collectors and – you guessed it – there was Jaskolski, to his own surprise, with his homemade hockey puck dispenser.
“There’s a saying, ‘You’re not famous until they put your head on a Pez dispenser.’ So, I guess I finally made it,” he said.
So what’s ahead for this hardcore collector?
He’s now started looking for vintage candy display boxes.
“I have acquired quite a few, but there are many out there that I do not have,” he said.
“It amazes me that these still exist. I can understand how old dispensers are found – they were tossed in a toy box back in the day, thrown in the attic, and found years later. But, if candy didn’t sell at a store back then, I’m surprised that some of it survived and wasn’t thrown out.
“The graphics on the boxes from that time period, (the 1960s through the early 1980s) is amazing.”
A year ago in July, Jaskolski co-moderated a candy pack / display seminar at Pezamania, the world’s largest Pez convention, which was held in Cleveland.
“My lofty long-term goal is to open a candy dispenser museum in Chicago. There’s so much history regarding Pez, how it became a cult icon all over the world with kids and adults alike. It’s incredible that it’s just as popular today as it was decades ago,” he said.
And what about the candy itself?
“There are some good flavors, but I would love to see a larger variety offered,” Jaskolski said. “They had some funky flavors back in the day, like chlorophyll and a psychedelic flower type of candy.”
And yes, he still eats the candy.
“My favorite flavors are cola and a few of the sour flavors. They also make gummy candies, which are pretty good,” he said.
“There are many people who collect Pez, and there are dozens of conventions all over the world each year. I travel quite often for Pez, and have even gone to conventions in Slovenia and Austria,” Jaskolski said. “While in Vienna last year, I got to meet a lovely woman named Gerda Jahn. In the 1960s, Gerda was a model and responded to an ad which led to a modeling job as a ‘Pez Girl.’ Since then, her image has been used everywhere, and was turned into the now-famous Pez-Girl cartoon character. She only did it for a short time and was amazed that collectors in the U.S. even knew who she was.”
Pez has produced dispensers for various sports activities, including the Olympics, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, college football, college basketball, European soccer teams, NASCAR, the WWE, and more.
Many Pez sporting dispensers are sold regionally, such as Cubs in Chicago, Tigers in Detroit, etc. That makes it a little harder for Jaskolski and fellow diehard collectors to get them when they first come out.
The most valuable sports-related Pez in his collection is an Olympic Alpine man with a green hat, given out at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany.
“Most kids probably threw them away after eating the candy, and those particular ones were never mass-produced to sell in stores, so they’re quite hard to find,” he said.
The Olympic Alpine man also was produced with a brown alpine hat, “which is super hard to find,” Jaskolski said. “As far as I know, only a few (brown hat Pez) are known to exist.”
Jaskolski said that any Pez related to the Olympics can be pretty valuable, especially if it’s still in the package.
“I have an Olympic Snowman from the Innsbruck, Austria Games, as well as a Vucko Wolf from the Sarajevo Games still in the package, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Munich Alpine Man in any type of original packaging,” he said. “Original packaged vintage Olympic dispensers can go for double or even triple the price of loose dispensers.”
Jaskolski’s sporting flavor isn’t just international.
“I like the dispensers that are related to Chicago,” he said, noting that there are a few versions of the Cubs dispensers from past seasons.
“There also are giant Pez dispensers that dispense whole packs of candy. You can find some of those for both the Cubs and the Bears,” he said. “The harder to find sports dispensers, such as those for the Olympics, typically go for a lot of money. I’ve gotten into bidding wars with other friends, especially on eBay, because there’s a lot of demand for them, but they’re so hard to find.”
Jaskolski said he is constantly searching for the Vucko Olympic wolf in its original packaging, which was a cellophane wrapper. Most kids opened them up when they got them, so finding him in the original packaging is very hard,” he said.
Sports fans can look for various characters wearing team hats, such as Mickey Mouse, Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and others. Some were in color and some were gold-plated.
“Pez made those for various baseball and football teams, and it’s always interesting to see them when they pop up at a store,” Jaskolski said. “For vintage dispensers, Pez made a generic football player line, where you could put a pendant/sticker on the side of the dispenser. Those are harder to find and come up from time to time. There are six different dispensers in this line; four players with a taped stripe on the helmet, and two with a plastic snap-on stripe.
“The snap-on stripe players are extremely hard to find.”
Jaskolski said one sporting change over the years is, different types of MLB caps, which were produced several years.
“Some league licenses must have been harder to acquire than others. Pez never made regular-sized NFL dispensers. The licensing agreements must change over time and be harder for some leagues as opposed to others,” Jaskolski said. “The sports teams don’t really do Pez giveaways anymore, either.”
The Chicago Cubs were, though, a pioneer in that field.
In 2000 and 2001, attendees at a few Cubs games received free dispensers of Charlie Brown or Snoopy wearing a Cubs baseball cap, or Homer Simpson with a Cubs paper insert.
“I have a few of those along with the original paper handouts that came with them,” Jaskolski said. “A friend of mine was at one of those (giveaway) games. When the game was over, he walked through the bleachers as fast as he could, picking up all of the dispensers that attendees had discarded on the ground. These days, those ones tend to be a little harder to find and more valuable than common dispensers.”
There are a few NHL teams that have their logos on a Zamboni or Stanley Cup, Pez-related.
“Those are harder to get, as they were only for sale in Canada,” Jaskolski said.
There are MLB teams that have their logo on different styles of baseball caps.
“I think the New York Yankees have also had Pez giveaway days, just like the Cubs,” he said.
Some college basketball and football teams have had special Pez giveaways, too.
In Europe, it’s all about soccer on the Pez front. Several British and German soccer leagues have their logos on soccer balls, which were only available for sale in those countries.
Jaskolski said that there are not too many sports stars as Pez dispensers. Some of the NASCAR drivers have helmets with their autographs on them. There is also a three-dispenser wrestling box set that has John Cena, The Rock, and The Undertaker in it.
No baseball, football, or basketball stars have had their likeness made as a Pez dispenser, he said.
“The company used to have an unspoken rule that they didn’t put (living) people on Pez dispensers,” he said. “That changed a few years back when they made the Orange County Chopper guys as dispensers.
“Since then there have (been) KISS, Elvis, and other celebrities, (too). I guess it’s time they started with some of the great sports heroes as well.”
Jaskolski said one of the best places to get sports-related Pez is at candy stores, such as Candyality or Windy City Sweets in Chicago; or at sports-themed stores. University campus stores also tend to carry dispensers that carry their school/sports team logo on them.
“If I get my wish with the candy dispenser museum one day, there would definitely be a section related to sports dispensers,” Jaskolski said. “It would be complete with the dispensers, advertisements, and hand-outs that went along with that time period.
“Some collectors also get dispensers signed by celebrities. I got to meet (WWE star) John Cena a few months ago when he was in Chicago, and had him sign his Pez dispenser. It would be nice to start a collection of sports dispensers autographed by different athletes.”
Jaskolski added, “I’d like to see sports teams go back to Pez giveaway days. It’s a great way to get a collector to the game who may not have previously purchased tickets. I think it gets kids excited about sports, too. Who doesn’t love candy and a toy? And it helps those ‘adult kids’ who are always on the hunt for limited edition collectibles.”
Brian Jaskolski is always looking for vintage dispensers, candy packs, and marketing items. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. u
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.