News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 3, 2013

‘Coke Man’: Coca-Cola collection of former Paris resident Ralph Butler includes rare items to be auctioned

Dustyn Fatheree
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Toys, buttons, bottles, banners, signs, vending machines, serving trays and decals.

All of those will have one thing in common at an auction in Illinois this month — and that is Coca-Cola.

Ralph Butler, who died in March at age 97, willed to have his collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia auctioned after his passing, said Heidi Mitchell, one of Butler’s granddaughters.

That auction will feature over 270 lots — or bundles — of Butler’s lifetime collection of Coke-related items. The live auction portion will begin at 10 a.m. July 12 at the Edgar County 4-H building in Paris, Ill.

Butler, who some called the “Coke Man,” started off delivering the soft drink to local businesses by truck, and by the early 1960s worked his way up to plant manager at the Coke bottling plant in Paris, another granddaughter, Mindy Mood, said.

Butler served as the plant manager until his retirement in 1981. The bottling plant closed in 1989.

“As a kid, I remember playing with a Coca-Cola car, a horse-drawn carriage and plastic Coke dispensers,” Mood said. “We didn’t look at the items as collectibles … we played with the toys, used the pencils and rulers just like every other item.”

Mitchell said Butler used to let them play in the bottling plant’s office areas. They also attended Coca-Cola picnics that included amusement rides.

Butler often worked with Terre Haute’s Chapman Root, according to the Moss auction company, because both were involved with Coca-Cola bottling operations.

Butler referred to Root as his “ultimate boss.” Root opened Root Glass Works in 1901 and began bottling Coca-Cola by 1904. Eventually the company developed a cocoa tree pod type design that was selected to become the contoured shape that Coca-Cola has used for years.

Among the merchandise featured at the auction, a few rare items will be up for grabs.

“The 48-inch metal Coca-Cola sign and the six-foot tall Coca-Cola bottle sign are two of the more unique items,” auctioneer Matthew Moss said. “It is hard to find these items in good conditions. Usually people have them outside, so they get weathered. These have always been stored indoors.”

The auction also features an online bidding component that is available now, and some bids have already been placed. A bundle of three Coca-Cola metal shopping cart bottle holders holds the highest bid at $30, and the 48-inch metal button sign stands at $10. The six-foot sign also stands at a bid of $10.

For more information about the online and live auctions, or the products being bid on, visit www.mossauctionteam.com or call its office at 217-465-4545.

Terre Haute Tribune-Star Reporter Dustyn Fatheree can be reached at 812-231-4255 and dustyn.fatheree@tribstar.com.