If you want to see the world’s most impressive collection of Dr Pepper memorabilia, you’ll need to travel to the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco. Or, you can save yourself the trip and visit the office of Dr. Jim Towns, SFA professor of communication.
Towns, who has been collecting Dr Pepper items for decades, said he began the hobby because he wanted to collect something unique.
“Many of my friends were collecting Coca-Cola items,” Towns said. “I began collecting in college, and there were so many Coca-Cola collectors around. I wanted to be different. At that time, no one I knew was collecting Dr Pepper bottles, so that’s how I got started.”
Dr Pepper was created in 1885 in Waco at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store. According to Towns, a young pharmacist, Charles Alderton, worked at the store and is credited with inventing the famous soft drink.
“Charles spent most of his time compounding medicine,” Towns said. “But in his spare time, he enjoyed serving carbonated drinks at the soda fountain.”
According to Dr Pepper’s website, Alderton liked the smell the fruit syrup created when being mixed, and he decided to create a drink that tasted like the aromas.
Keeping a journal, Alderton finally concocted a mixture of fruit syrups he liked. To test his new beverage, he offered it to the store’s owner, Wade Morrison, who enjoyed it. Later, the drink was made available to drug store patrons, who began requesting it.
Morrison is credited with naming the drink Dr. Pepper (the period was dropped in the 1950s). Although representatives for Dr Pepper say the name’s origin is unclear, Towns attributes the naming to a real-life Dr. Pepper who had given his permission for Morrison to marry his daughter. In gratitude, Towns said, Morrison named the drink in his honor.
Dr Pepper gained such widespread consumer favor that other soda fountain operators in Waco began buying the syrup from Morrison and serving it. Soon, demand exceeded supply.
“A beverage chemist, Robert Lazenby, tried the drink and also was impressed,” Towns said. “Alderton was much more interested in pharmacy work and not so much in developing the drink. He suggested that Morrison and Lazenby work on developing it further. The pair later formed Artesian Mfg. & Bottling Company, which later became the Dr Pepper Company,” Towns added.
The first items Towns collected were green bottles from the 1930s to 1950s. He later graduated to cans, carriers and novelty items.
Towns’ most-coveted collectible is his 1930 Nacogdoches Dr Pepper bottle. In addition to being extremely rare, there’s an added appeal — it’s shaped like a log.
“In the 1930s, Dr Pepper was bottled in many locations, including Nacogdoches, and the bottlers were allowed some liberties in designing their own bottles,” Towns said. “So, the folks bottling the drink locally decided to have their bottle shaped like a log to reflect the area’s pine trees and lumber industry. The bottles were manufactured elsewhere and shipped back to Nacogdoches for bottling.”
Towns said many items in his collection have been purchased from junk stores, flea markets and trade days, including Canton First Monday, where he purchased an incredibly rare bottle.
“As I was checking out the vendors, I noticed an ‘I’m a Pepper’ Dr Pepper bottle that dates to May 7, 1982,” Towns said. “Although the bottle isn’t particularly old, it’s extremely rare because it is a Dr Pepper bottle that was filled with Coca-Cola due to a mix up at the bottler. The vendor was asking $3 for the bottle. I told him it was worth much more, so I paid him $50,” Towns said.
Many, including representatives at the Dr Pepper Museum, regard Towns as a Dr Pepper expert. Towns has presented seminars at the museum about collecting Dr Pepper memorabilia and discussed his own collection. He also occasionally receives communications asking for his expert opinion on various items.
According to representatives at the Dr Pepper Museum, Towns has the most pristine collection of Dr Pepper carriers and bottles in the Dr Pepper 10-2-4 Collectors’ Club, and these items are generally his topic of choice when asked to speak at the museum.
“I’ll tell you a funny story,” Towns said. “I came across a bottle I wasn’t familiar with, which in itself is rare, so I called the Dr Pepper Museum to inquire about it. After being transferred a few times, I finally was connected with a gentleman who told me he wasn’t familiar with the bottle either, but to contact Jim Towns in Nacogdoches because he knew everything there was to know about Dr Pepper bottles,” Towns said. “I told him that he was speaking to Jim Towns, and we both had a good laugh.”
Towns’ collection comprises hundreds of Dr Pepper-related items, which includes rare cans, bottles and carriers. He also has dozens of items that are not rare, but nonetheless have appeal.
“Some items in my collection just remind me of a time or place,” Towns said. “For instance, in the 1970s, it became popular to drink Dr Pepper as a hot beverage. I have some carriers that show graphics of Dr Pepper being served steaming hot with lemon.”
Various Dr Pepper items are proudly displayed on the shelves in Towns’ office, including the first can Dr Pepper produced, metal bottle carriers from the early days of Dr Pepper, cans Towns purchased while visiting other countries, sports-related cans and bottles, clocks, gum packages, a sailing ship constructed from Dr Pepper cans, stained glass, and many others.
“Through the years, my students have gifted me several Dr Pepper items,” Towns said. “One of the more unique collectibles given to me is a Jelly Belly dispenser that looks like a vintage Dr Pepper vending machine.”
His most-recently-acquired item is a Dr Pepper can a student received from an on-campus vending machine manufactured with the 2016 Lumberjack football game schedule on the reverse.
Although he’s not collecting as avidly as he once was, Towns said he still can’t resist purchasing an item if it is rare or has meaning to him. His advice for up-and-coming collectors: “Don’t stock up on too many general items. They don’t necessarily go up in value,” Towns said. “Instead, be willing to pay more for the extremely rare items. They will go up in value and protect your investment.”