Kids have been collecting their favorite PEZ dispensers for decades, and today, with many of them still available at affordable prices -- a new Buzz Lightyear or Darth Vader can be had for less than $5 -- it's possible to begin a collection with allowance money or by taking out a surreptitious loan from Dad's spare change dish.
But there are also plenty of adults hooked on PEZ dispenser collecting. The hobby really took off in the 1980s, and in the decade that followed, PEZ enthusiasts began to publish guidebooks and a newsletter, PEZ Collectors News, and hold annual conventions [source: Kahn and Chertoff].
Vintage, rare and special-edition PEZ dispensers go for prices in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, but compared to other sorts of collectables, they're relatively cheap. Additionally, the PEZ company, which had roughly $50 to $100 million in 2009 sales, regularly comes out with new designs, based upon everything from Hello Kitty and the latest Disney animated characters to the colors and logos of major-league baseball and college sports teams [source: Pacyniak]. So there's an ever-expanding assortment for PEZ-heads to covet.
While PEZ collecting may seem like a humble pastime, the collectors that scrutinize the tiny plastic figurines have an eye for detail that might put some art historians to shame. Savvy collectors know that there are seven different components to a PEZ dispenser, and that older, more valuable vintage dispensers made before 1963 have metal, rather than plastic hinges, and no feet [source: Popapez.com]. They also know that among the more than 450 kinds of dispensers that have been issued since 1955, there are three different versions of Santa Claus, including a full-body version issued in 1955, and there's a Salvador Dali-esque 1968 "Psychedelic Hand" dispenser with a hand that clutches a green eyeball [sources: Popapez.com, Pez.com, Pez.com]. They're familiar with the "Bride" and "Stewardess" dispensers, both issued in 1975, and they're aware that the special limited-edition "Orange County Chopper" gift set, issued in 2006, is the first ever to feature living people [source: PEZ.com, PEZ.com]. They also know about the PEZ Museum, which we'll address on the next page.