Thursday, August 17, 2006

Pez dispensers, Pez collectors -- Husband, wife avid fans of iconic candy containers

From Daily Republic
By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - Pez collector Dawn Stec says her favorite dispensers are the ones that look slightly used.

While some Pez collectors keep their prizes in their plastic wrapping, Stec said she likes to "free my Pez and fill them with candy.

"If I find one that has been used, it is more special to me because a child has probably used it," Dawn Stec said.

Her husband, Suisun City Police Sgt. Ted Stec, likes handing out Pez that look like police officers to his men during briefings and jokingly says the 50-plus police Pez dispensers the couple have "look like me."

The Pez Candy Inc. sells the candies that look like small bricks, dispensed from pocket-sized mechanical dispensers, according to the

The name comes from the German word for peppermint, pfefferminz, the first Pez flavor. The candy was invented in Austria in 1927 and initially came in a small tin similar to modern Altoid tins.

The first dispensers, some of which are included in Dawn Stec's collection, looked like a cigarette lighter and dispensed the small breath mint as an alternative to smoking.

In 1952, Pez was introduced to America. Three years later, the company put heads on the dispensers and marketed them to children. These first head dispensers included Mickey Mouse, Santa Claus and Spacetrooper.The company is now headquartered in Traun, Austria, and produces more than 3 billion candy bricks a year in its American facilities alone. The dispensers are produced in Hungary and China.

Now, there are more than 450 unique dispenser heads with thousands of variations.
Name a cartoon character from Bugs Bunny to Snow White to Spongebob Squarepants and there is probably a Pez dispenser with his or her head on it.

"The Batman one (from the 1960s) is fairly rare because he has a cape," Dawn Stec said.
The list of the rarest, which the Stecs still don't have, includes a Lions Club Pez and a Make-A-Face Pez where the dispenser came with a 13 extra parts for people to make different faces. It was soon pulled from the market because the company thought the small parts represented a choking hazard for children.

The company has a general rule against putting likenesses of real people on its dispensers. It has only created three in its history - Betsy Ross, Daniel Boone and Paul Revere.

A bride and groom Pez duo the Stecs have is another of the rare dispensers.

"A Pez company employee had them created and they were given out as party favors for a wedding," Dawn Stec said.

Dawn Stec started her casual Pez collecting in high school when she starting picking up the colorful candy dispensers in the grocery store.

When she got a job in Fremont, Dawn Stec set up some of her collection at her desk and friends soon started bringing in Pez dispensers that they found and added them to her collection.

"It was then that I got a collection without realizing it," Dawn Stec said.

For the first 10 years, she kept her collection in a shoe box and thought her hobby of collecting Pez was fairly unique until she found another collector and saw his collection.

When Dawn Stec told her then-future husband Ted that she collected Pez and the worldwide extent of Pez collectors, Ted Stec said he was a little skeptical.

"Then I went to my first Pez convention and it convinced me this was all real," Ted Stec said. "It was a lot of fun to meet people who collected Pez dispensers."

The couple put up a table at the firemen's muster earlier this summer, selling firemen Pez dispensers to firefighters from all over the state who gathered in Old Town Suisun City.

Ted Stec also likes the sports Pez dispensers for baseball and football, as well as dispensers honoring the top drivers in NASCAR racing.

"I am looking forward to the Orange County Chopper Pez when it comes out," Ted Stec said.

Both Dawn and Ted Stec said their passion for Pez is nothing compared to Dawn's mother, Tina Gunsauls, who Dawn introduced to collecting several years ago.

"She does 10 times as much collecting as I do now," Dawn Stec said, also noting her mother runs a Pez selling business out of her home in Red Bluff.

Dawn's father even built an extension to the house to hold both his wife's and his daughter's Pez collection, but also to house Gunsauls' place of business.

As for where Dawn and Ted Stec would like to take their collecting, they said they would some day like to buy a live-work residence and set up a candy store that would feature Pez.

Unlike the chewing gum card collectors who immediately toss the obligatory stick of gum when they get their sports card pack, the Stecs say they also like the Pez candy too.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

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