Linda Sponaugle, 42, is a self-described “true bona fide PEZhead.” Her devotion to PEZ – those candy dispensers found at every grocery checkout stand – began in 1991, when she and her husband were touring a theme park in Florida. At one point, the tour overlooked a work area, and on top of one of the cubicles there were several PEZ dispensers. “I thought they looked really cool grouped together like that,” Sponaugle recounts, “and that’s when I decided to start collecting them.”

For the uninitiated, in the 1920s Edward Haas III invented PEZ in Vienna, Austria as a compressed peppermint candy for adults. PEZ crossed the Atlantic in the early 1950s and was marketed for children, with character heads appearing on the dispensers. The name PEZ comes from the first, middle and last letters of the German word for peppermint: Pfefferminz

Recalling the start of her collection, Sponaugle laughs, “At first, I was going to buy only the ones that I really, really liked. That lasted about ten minutes!” Indeed, her first PEZ purchase was at her local K-Mart, which carried about 25 different designs – and she bought them all.

Today, Sponaugle has 200 PEZ dispensers displayed along three walls of her kitchen, grouped according to categories such as heroes, cartoons and those with holiday themes. With incredulity in her voice, she says, “They aren’t glued down, although I do fear the domino effect. So far, that hasn’t happened.”
In addition to the displayed dispensers (and the 50-75 duplicates she has in storage), Sponaugle has PEZ key chains, candy holders, puzzles, copies of old PEZ advertisements, flashlights, bubble wands and watches, as well as a hat, mug, tie, car, and a framed PEZ bag. “My goal,” she reveals, “is to find PEZ curtains. And why don’t they make PEZ T-shirts in large sizes?”

In the past, Sponaugle’s search for PEZ knew no bounds. She recalls, “I learned that Flintstones PEZ were on the market. One Saturday, I just drove from one store to the next to the next to the next searching for them.” Now, she says, “I always keep my eye out for PEZ, but I no longer make special runs for them.”
Perhaps that’s because, these days, Sponaugle’s thirst for that elusive PEZ can be quenched via the Internet. She proudly recounts her most recent purchase – the Jack-in-the-Box PEZ that the fast food restaurant used as a premium – from the PEZ Museum in Burlingame, Calif. “I was so thrilled to learn I could get them from the PEZ Museum!”

Sponaugle expounds on PEZ resources available through the Internet. “I did subscribe to a PEZ (Internet mailing) list, but it got to be too much. I do get an online PEZ newsletter, which is excellent. When I have free time, I search the Internet for PEZ – there’s a whole PEZ webring.”

PEZ just may be the hot new collectible among baby boomers. According to Sponaugle, “There are PEZ conventions, and a rare PEZ dispenser can be sold for thousands of dollars.”

While Sponaugle may be a PEZhead, if the truth were told, she’s not a fan of the candy that comes with and is theoretically placed inside the dispensers. “Peppermint PEZ is okay,” she says, “but the rest I don’t care for.” While she used to give the candy out at Halloween, she says, “Now I have a big bowl of PEZ in my kitchen, figuring it is part of the décor.”

But don’t get the wrong impression – Sponaugle’s life consists of more than collecting PEZ. In fact, she is definitely not a stereotypical eccentric collector. Sponaugle and her husband, Bob, have been married eleven years, and she works in the sales department of a film production company. Sponaugle loves to shop and read, and her and Bob’s favorite place to visit is Cape May, NJ. In addition, they spend much of their spare time volunteering with NAAFA, an organization that educates, supports and advocates for people all sizes of large.

Having said that, our PEZhead’s collection doesn’t end with the candy dispensers. Linda and Bob also collect Furbys, and to date their “Furby family” numbers 16. Sponaugle says with amusement, “I was the first kid on my block with a Furby, when a friend gave me one last October.” Because Furbys can interact with one another, she felt compelled to get a second. By that time, holiday Furby mania had hit, and so they bought a Furby whenever and wherever one could be found. With a rationale that makes utmost sense to any serious collector, Sponaugle recounts, “We decided, well, why not get one of each color. Then (the manufacturer) retired those colors and put out six new colors. We had to get them, too. Then they started to have special editions….”

Sponaugle says, “Bob and I are totally amused by them.” When BBW’s photographer took a picture of the Furbys, a few of them said, “Bright light!” when the flash went off. After about a dozen pictures, one of the Furbys chirped, “Boring!”
Revealing that Furbys can do “tricks,” Sponaugle says, “If you make a loud noise three times and then pet it, the Furby will sing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.’ I try to get them all to sing at one time – a kind of funny, off-key Furby round.”

It should come as no surprise that Sponaugle has many, many other collections. She has decorated her bathroom, for example, in a motif from her favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz. Her collection is so complete, she says, “We just need to retile the floor in yellow bricks!”

To Sponaugle, collecting is all about having fun, and never mind what anyone else thinks. “After living many years of feeling that I needed to act my age,” she says, “I’ve decided that I really don’t need to do that at all.” She continues, “I love my PEZ kitchen and my collection of Furbys and Wizard of Oz bathroom. They’re fun. They amuse me. And that’s what life should be about.”

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