Stuck on Gum

Odd Collections, People
on July 30, 2009

Joanne Brunet always carries a pack of Wrigley's Spearmint in her purse for chewing, but what she truly savors are the 4,000 packs of gum she's saved over the last 68 years.

"Every few days I spend time just looking at the packages," says Brunet, 73, marveling at the extensive and colorful collection displayed in her personal Gum Gallery in Quartzsite, Ariz. (pop. 3,354).

Brunet's husband, Sonny, built the 600-square-foot backyard gallery five years ago after decades of moving boxes of Bazooka and Bubblicious, Teaberry and Trident, and hundreds of other new and bygone brands from basement to attic to barn as they moved from house to house.

"She had the gum stored and I thought that was a shame," says Sonny, 75, who also built 112 glass-covered cases to display the treasured collection.

Joanne has been collecting gum since she and her sister, Carolyn, began enjoying the sweet treat in the 1940s. At the time, the sisters saved tax tokens, which were used when sales tax was a fraction of a penny. With five red plastic tokens, the sisters bought a precious penny pack of Wrigley's chewing gum.

"We were poor and gum was all we could afford," Joanne recalls. "We'd split the pack and save one stick for the collection."

Carolyn Bee, 75, of Colorado Springs, Colo., is amazed that her sister has stuck with their childhood hobby. "It wasn't very much, a box or two, when I turned the collection over to her in 1953," she says, noting that Joanne now owns every brand imaginable.

Well, not every brand. "Oh, I'd love to have a package of John Curtis' gum," Joanne says about America's first commercial chewing gum. "Wouldn't that be something?"

In 1848, Curtis made and sold "State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum," but his idea wasn't original. People have chewed gum since ancient time, chomping sap and resin from spruce trees in Northern forests, mastic trees in the Mediterranean, and sapodilla trees in Central America to clean teeth and freshen breath.

The oldest gum in Joanne's collection is a stiff stick of 1932 Wrigley's Double-mint. "A woman in Grand Junction, Colo., found this in her grandfather's desk and asked if I'd like it," says Joanne, who contacted Wrigley's to authenticate the gum's age.

The Gum Gallery showcases antique gumball machines, advertisements and gum packages from 30 countries, and chronicles U.S. history and pop culture. A set of 1960s bubblegum trading cards feature the TV cast from McHale's Navy, and "Man on the Moon" cards commemorate the 1969 Apollo 11 landing. Joanne's 1970s bubblegum cards feature the rock band Kiss, the movie Star Wars and professional skateboarders. A series of 1980s novelty gum packages resemble miniature album covers such as Pat Benatar's "Crimes of Passion," and 1990s gum packages look like cassettes or CDs of popular music groups, including New Kids on the Block.

"I'm so proud of it all, and anyone who gets to see it is amazed," Joanne says. She loves to show the collection to interested visitors such as Maggie James, 73, of Ontario, Ore. The women met, says James, while shopping at the local Salvation Army thrift store.

"Joanne said, 'How are you?' and I said, 'Gooder than gum.' She looked me straight in the eye and said, 'Oh, I like gum, do you?'" James recalls. "She invited me to see the gum museum and I was absolutely fascinated. Can you name one person in the world who hasn't chewed gum?"

The Chiclets and Beech-Nut, Dentyne and Hot Dog! bubblegum refresh, not just breath, but childhood memories.

"Whenever I look at certain packs, I think about the friend or family member who gave it to me," Joanne says. "And I always think of my sister."