Luke, man, that was a long time ago. I wish I could remember my wife's birthday. But if I think of any clues, I will look for the web site sometime.
For nearly a year, probably around 1998-99, I spoke and e-mailed at least weekly with a New York man whose family took over Sam Eppy's equipment and machines. He is a major player in the bulk vending industry today. This is a company that has so many bulk vending machines selling on routes in New York that they make and rebuild their own gum machines. Together we created a tight outline of a book about the history of bulk vending, with information that would be of interest to both members of the bulk vending industry as well as collectors. But he couldn't continue, because, during the course of our conversations, he bought a major route with thousands of new machines that they had to service, and we lost touch. I didn't pursue it, because I didn't even have enough money to travel to NYC to do some needed footwork for research. I have some regret that I let the ball drop on that. I don't even have a copy of the outline that I know of. But he initially contacted me through that first website that I put together on bulk vending charms.
Speaking of charms, I remember a conversation, probably in the mid to late-1990s, with Ron Toth (someone who has collected or dealt in a little bit -- and usually a whole lot -- of every variety of small advertising collectibles). I bought a bunch of different plastic charms from him over the years when I was collecting alphabet prizes. I mentioned to him that I had been doing some trading in bulk vending charms. Of course, I was collecting for the fun of it, but I was always on the look out for value and the possibility of resale when I bought collections. Ron told me that I should not spend a lot of money on charms, because, unless they are licensed items, they will never have much value, just because there are so many of them. But that was before eBay took off.
Nowadays I think more in terms of investment and what I can resale, because buying and selling is a way for me to keep in touch with the things I love so much, even if I can't afford to collect them. (And if I happen to find some things I want to hold onto for awhile, then that is a nice side benefit.) I often see common plastic gumball prizes for sale on eBay for $5.00 each now -- items I have seen dozens or even hundreds of times in the past. Some celluloid and bread charms are going for $10, $15, $20 and up. I'm not talking about this is just the price the sellers are listing them for, but they are actually selling them for that price. I have spent a lot of time looking at closed auctions to see what sellers are actually selling, not just what they are listing. I am even selling Cracker Jack prizes on eBay for more than I thought I ever could. I have been paying close attention to the people who are buying from me, so now I know exactly why these items are selling.
The mini promotional toys that are fetching great prices on eBay are not all going to collectors of gum machine prizes, Cracker Jack prizes, or in-pack prizes of cereal and other products. They are being bought by either non-collectors or cross collectors. Non-collectors are great, because they are impulse buyers. They are the ones who buy something because they remember something similar from their childhood, they just think it's cute, or they are gifting it to someone they think would like it. But as a seller, my favorites are cross collectors. I have often sold every "squirrel" item I have listed, because a squirrel collector found my online store and could click on "Buy It Now" several times. I also sell to Cracker Jack collectors, because I get enough of the Cracker Jack prizes you don't find every day to keep them interested.
I think I mentioned on here one time that as much as 40 percent of the items found when you search for "Cracker Jack" on eBay are not Cracker Jack items, and a large number of them are gum machine charms. So a lot of people just assume that the numbers must be right. They just don't take into consideration that many of the sellers on eBay are generalists, and really don't know a lot about everything they are selling. As a result, I am afraid that Cracker Jack prizes and gum machine charms will be forever linked in one way or another. After all, even I kept my Cracker Jack prizes and my gum machine charms in the same place as a child.