Bottled passion

Mr Kannie Yeo and his Coca- Cola bottle and can collection.
Mr Kannie Yeo and his Coca- Cola bottle and can collection.ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH
Limited-Edition Set released with the 2013 Fifa Confederations Cup in Brazil.
Limited-Edition Set released with the 2013 Fifa Confederations Cup in Brazil.ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH

Engineer Kannie Yeo has about 1,000 Coca-Cola containers

The year was 1998 and Mr Kannie Yeo, then 24, was looking to start a hobby.

One day, he was shopping with a friend at the MBK Center in Bangkok when three Coca-Cola bottles imprinted with Santa Claus designs caught his eye.

He paid 1,000 baht for the bottles, which he realised later were made in the United States for Christmas in 1996. That kick-started a collection that has since grown to about 1,000 Coca-Cola bottles and 30 cans.

Mr Yeo paid €500 (S$750) for this limited-edition bottle in Spain last year. It was released in line with the 2014 Fifa World Cup and there are only 500 pieces available. -- ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH

Mr Yeo, now 41, has spent about $50,000 so far and the collection is now worth about $60,000. The engineer has dedicated a room in his four-room HDB flat in Bukit Panjang to display his collection, installing it with wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling glass cabinets.

He says: "The Coca-Cola brand is such a famous one. I fell in love with the bottles in Bangkok instantly."

Those in his collection come in all sorts of designs, from those featuring luxury brands such as Moschino to others that commemorate the inauguration of US presidents.

After Mr Kannie Yeo gets a new empty Coca-Cola bottle, he fills it with fresh cola and attaches a cap to it using this bottle capper he bought in Clementi Mall. -- ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH

He has printed little country flags which he places in front of the bottles to indicate where they are from.

Another cabinet in the living room has memorabilia from the brand's 125th anniversary in 2011. Two customised cans from the ongoing Share A Coke campaign to mark Singapore's 50th birthday, where bottles and cans feature nicknames or phrases, bear his and his wife's names and are on the coffee table. The couple do not have children.

Mr Yeo is president of the Singapore Coca-Cola Collectors Club, which he started in 2013. It has about 60 local members and more than 100 overseas members.

When he started his hobby, his mother, who is in her 60s, did not approve as she felt it was a waste of money.

So he would send the items he bought from eBay to his colleague's home, collect them from him at work and take them home at night when his mum had gone to bed.

"When she asked if it's something new, I'd say, 'No, it's been there for some time'," he recalls, chuckling.

Occasionally, his wife Sally, 40, who works in the construction industry, would also nag him about his purchases. His retort? "You have a walk-in wardrobe, so we're even."

Mr Yeo's mother does not live with the couple.

He says: "Collecting is a joy as I get to know people around the world and I feel happy when I look at the bottles. The special-edition ones can be sold at higher prices than what I paid for, so it's also an investment."

Yet, he says he has not sold any as they are all "too precious to me".

When collectors from countries such as Spain visit, Mr Yeo and his club members take them out for local food and to see the Singapore members' collections.

He recounts fondly: "My most memorable trip was visiting a collector in Barcelona who had a basement filled with tens of thousands of limited-edition bottles. I realised then that I was just a small fry."

Collectors from as far as France and Belgium, he adds, have been asking him to send the Share A Coke cans, which are imprinted with words and phrases such as "chiongster" and "relak lah", to them. "Even though they may not know the meaning of the words, they find the cans unique as only Singapore has them."

But he has met dishonest collectors too. Six years ago, he traded a limited-edition bottle worth US$100 for a supposedly rare one from Mexico, which turned out to cost just US$10. "Now, I prefer to deal with traders I know who are reliable."

He has joined Facebook groups where he gets alerts about new Coca-Cola merchandise and spends about 20 minutes every night surfing eBay for potential buys before going to bed. "Sometimes, you buy something for US$100 only to find that its price has fallen to US$20 a few months later. It's a gamble."

He regrets not buying a Statue of Liberty-imprinted aluminium bottle released in New York to commemorate Coca-Cola's 125th anniversary. Back then, he thought the US$300 price tag was too hefty, but it shot up to US$1,000 months later.

Among his most expensive items is a limited-edition set of bottles that was released with the 2013 Fifa Confederations Cup in Brazil. He bought the set for US$800 (S$1,075) from a Brazilian seller on eBay in 2013.

"What was interesting was he did not want cash. Instead, he wanted a set of car tyres from Germany and requested I paid for those." Mr Yeo says the seller's German friend had bought the tyres and he then paid US$800 to that person via PayPal.

He cleans his collection once a year. Whenever he gets a new empty bottle, he fills it up with fresh Coca-Cola and uses a bottle capper to reattach the cap.

Does he have a favourite in his collection? "It's hard to decide. I'm running out of space, though, and will have to let go of some items eventually. Now, I limit myself to special-edition and commemorative bottles, as well as those with designs unique to Singapore."

This is the last column in The Collectors' Series. Watch out for new columns in the new-look Straits Times next week.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2015, with the headline 'Bottled passion'. Print Edition | Subscribe