A Niceville couple’s collection of McDonald’s memorabilia, informally valued at somewhere in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, goes up for auction Saturday.
By Jim Thompson | 315-4445 | @Jimtnwfdn | email@example.com
PENSACOLA — A Niceville couple’s collection of McDonald’s memorabilia, informally valued at somewhere in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, goes up for auction Saturday.
And in a perfect circle — or, in this case, two perfect arches — of circumstance, proceeds from the auction will benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Florida.
An estimated 45,000 pieces of the fast-food chain’s memorabilia will be auctioned at De Luna Winery beginning at 6 p.m.
The collection is being donated by Mike Wright, who operated a number of McDonald’s franchises in and around Fort Walton Beach before his recent retirement.
Wright acquired the collection from retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. William Poe and his wife, Pat, who spent more than 20 years assembling the items. The Poes were frequent visitors to Wright’s restaurants as they worked to expand their collection with new Happy Meal toys and other promotional items.
According to Wright, who first met the Poes in 1997, the couples’ interest in collecting — it was mostly William’s interest, he said — developed after William Poe’s retirement.
“He was kind of looking for a hobby,” Wright said.
Initially, Poe and wife went to yard sales with a focus on collecting restaurant memorabilia. Their interest eventually narrowed to McDonald’s items, both old and new.
“I just noticed they came into the store quite regularly,” Wright said.
And while he, like other restaurant owners, wants to think that people become regulars because of the food, Wright smilingly admitted that wasn’t the case with the Poes.
“I think the Poes’ ulterior motive was to ensure they had every possible item for their collection,” Wright said. “Quite often, they took the food and gave it to a homeless person.”
A mutual interest in collecting led to a lasting friendship between Wright and the Poes. Some of the items to be auctioned Saturday are from Wright’s collection.
“I’ve seen other collections over the years,” Wright said. “I’m sure it’s one of the top collections in the country. … At full retail, it’s six figures. Some of the things are one or two of a kind.”
Items to be included in the auction range from Happy Meal toys to life-size statues of Ronald McDonald to one of the small bottles of champagne sent to franchise owners in 1988 when McDonald’s opened its 10,000th restaurant. Because of the sheer number of items, the memorabilia are being assembled into about 250 lots, each of which will be auctioned as a whole.
Wright, like the Poes before their deaths, has been a long-time supporter of Ronald McDonald Charities of Northwest Florida, and has organized a number of fundraisers for the organization. As the Poes got more deeply involved in McDonalds’ collectibles, they sent the profits they made in buying and selling items to the charity.
Wright wouldn’t say how much he paid for the Poes’ collection, which he purchased primarily to help the couple with medical expenses and living expenses as William Poe waged a losing battle with cancer.
William Poe died in 2008, and his wife died two years ago.
Before Wright acquired the collection, it had filled the Poes’ home — jamming an enclosed garage, spilling into the kitchen, sitting atop mantels and spreading into the yard. Wright moved the collection to a warehouse, and there it sat until he decided a few months ago to donate it to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Florida.
“He said, ‘Trash or treasure, it’s yours,” Lauren Stimmell, the Pensacola charity’s events manager, said on a recent morning as she surveyed the collection, stacked high on shelves and tables in the De Luna Winery warehouse.
The charity will use the money to help operate the 26-bed Ronald McDonald House in Pensacola, which provides housing and other services at no charge to children being treated in area hospitals and their families. The work costs the charity more than $1 million annually, and most of that money is raised in the community.
In the months since accepting the donation, Ronald McDonald House staff members have been unpacking boxes and arranging the items into lots. That work has been done with the help of Stimmell’s mother, Karen Feagles, an antiques expert.
The lots are an eclectic mix. Some lean heavily toward toy vehicles emblazoned with the McDonald’s logo, while others are comprised largely of various McDonald’s pins and buttons, and others feature glassware imprinted with the images of Ronald and other McDonaldland characters.
“You can’t put all the cool stuff in one lot,” Stimmell said, laughing.
Among the “cool stuff” is a Ronald McDonald assembled from Lego blocks, which was available only to store managers, a “telephone” that allowed McDonald’s customers to hear directly from Ronald McDonald and a case of boxed McDonald’s cookies from the 1980s.
The lots are being offered at no reserve, meaning that Ronald McDonald Charities of Northwest Florida has not set a minimum amount it will accept for any given group of items.
That strategy adds to the uncertainty of what the items might bring, although word is getting out about Saturday’s auction, and the event could attract any number of McDonald’s memorabilia collectors prepared to pay premium prices.
Garth’s Antiques and Auction Gallery, the Pensacola business handling the auction, has posted information online on Craigslist and on EstateSales.net, and is spreading the word among area McDonald’s restaurants, according to Kristin Hall, secretary at the auction house.
In the event there are lots that aren’t sold, the items will be used in some way at the Ronald McDoanld House in Pensacola, according to Stimmell.
Since Ronald McDonald House Charities acquired the collection, Stimmell and Ashley Gillis, the charity’s community relations manager, have done some online research.
Some of what they’ve found has surprised them, including a $6,000 price for a life-sized Ronald McDonald statue — a few of which are included in Saturday’s auction.
But whatever happens Saturday, Stimmell said, “We’re thankful for any amount.”