Johan van Mierlo is probably Belgium’s most enthusiastic Coca-Cola Collector. He and his partner Sandrina run a memorabilia store located inside the Coca-Cola European Partners headquarters in Belgium, and they travel the world visiting Coca-Cola Collector events.

We spoke to Johan at the 2016 Coca-Cola Collectors Fair in London to find out what life is like for a full-time Coca-Cola Collector. Read on to find out how a passion for football kick-started his love for Coca-Cola, and discover the unexpected item that’s top of his wishlist.

How I started collecting…

“It was 1982, and I was in Spain for the World Cup. I was 12 years old and crazy about football at the time. While I was at the event I bought a can of Coca-Cola with the World Cup logo on it. Coke was the sponsor of the event so there were a few different cans and bottles with World Cup designs, and I kept them. Then back in Belgium I saw another World Cup can, and one in Holland too. Soon enough I was collecting Coca-Cola cans and bottles and I left football behind. Coca-Cola has been my passion ever since.” 

“Our home is made up of three apartments, and two of those are full of our collection. We live in the other one.”


 

We go to every Coke show in Europe…

“… and a lot in the USA as well. Our store at the Coca-Cola European Partners HQ in Brussels sells memorabilia, and we visit all the shows to buy and sell. Today we’ve brought just a small part of our collection.

“Many people know me so I’ll be meeting a lot of familiar faces today. In April we had a Coca-Cola show at the Brussels HQ which was organised in partnership with the team who are behind the scenes at today’s event, so there’s a lot of idea-sharing. They’re also thinking of updating the offices there so they might take some inspiration from the London offices today.”

The rarest item I’ve brought along today…

“…is a gallon bottle. It was used to distribute concentrated Coca-Cola syrup to stores and cafes. It’s not for drinking from directly. These are my favourites.

“My partner Sandrina collects box sets from the 75th anniversary of the Coca-Cola bottling plants. The plants all began to appear around 1900, so the anniversaries are close together. The first one was made for the Atlanta bottling plant in 1957, and there are around 16 other sets. Today we’ve brought along a 1977 boxed set from the Columbia bottling plant in South Carolina, which is worth around 75 euros.”  

A gallon bottle used for delivering concentrated Coca-Cola syrup to stores


 

My favourite piece…

“…changes every day. I find brand new things that I love all the time, and I also still get really excited about things I already own. I don’t have a favourite item, I have an item of the day because we have so many great pieces.

“Sandrina and I live with our collection. Our home is made up of three apartments, and two of those are full of our collections. We live in the other one.”

“Coca-Cola is always one of the first to get new things on the market. Why is that? It’s fascinating.”


If I could own any Coca-Cola artefact… 

The 1930s Coca-Cola pancake machine: Johan’s most desired Coke artefact


“…it would be a Coca-Cola pancake machine from the 1930s. They’re the same as the pancake-making machines you can buy today, where you put the dough in, close the lid and then there’s your pancake. With this machine, your pancake has the Coca-Cola logo imprinted on it.

“Today that would be a smart idea. But in 1930 it was amazing. Even back then, Coca-Cola was thinking about how to make their promotions something special. Coca-Cola is always one of the first to get new things on the market. Why is that? It’s fascinating.

There’s one of the pancake machines in the Coca-Cola Archives in Atlanta, and I have seen another one for sale but it wasn’t in perfect condition so I didn’t buy it. Do I regret that? Well, sometimes…”

What I like about the Coca Cola brand…

“It makes me happy when I see it. It’s part of life for everybody – who doesn't drink Coca-Cola? There’s always a good reason to drink it, and always plenty of choice because you’ve got Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, Diet Coke, and my favourite – Cherry Coke. I prefer the UK and German versions of Cherry Coke to the Belgian one, because they have slightly different flavours. It’s not collectable though, because there have never been any promotions around it.”

“I prefer the UK and German versions of Cherry Coke to the Belgian one. They have slightly different flavours.”

The best thing about today…

“…is finding new things for our collection and helping out other people by bringing rare things back with us. There’s no official collectors’ club in Belgium, so we help people find things. It’s not part of our business and we don’t charge, we just like to help out.”

Part of Johan and Sandrina’s collection on display at an event in Belgium


“Part of the fun of collecting is that you have things nobody else has. Each collection is unique.”

My collection ambition…

“…is to keep enjoying myself. I collect for the love of it, and it’s a big part of life for me and Sandrina. Every morning we wake up and it's Coca-Cola day again. I don’t want the world’s biggest collection. It's not possible to get every bottle, and that’s fine by me. Part of the fun of collecting is that you have things nobody else has. Each collection is unique.”

Take a look at some of the rare items from the Coca-Cola Collectors Fair in London