Head Case

Alumnus’ love of a childhood novelty turns into an amusing (and valuable) collection


Nathan Arms, ’98 | PEZ Collector

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Whether you grew up in the 1950s or the 1990s, in the United States or another country, you know the name. Its three letters probably conjures up visions of your childhood. Perhaps you even begged your parents to buy you Mickey Mouse or Santa Claus (two of the top sellers). And, if they agreed, you may have even insisted on a couple of extra packs of candy to go with your beloved head on a stick. Maybe you still have a few packed away? Or, better yet, maybe you still buy one on occasion for your own children?

But, for one alumnus, PEZ is more than just a nostalgic memory.

Nathan Arms’, ’98, PEZ dispenser collection started in the late ’70s, with Diabolic, from the Eerie Spectres series. Although he picked up more here and there over the next couple of decades, he didn’t become an avid collector until 1999.

“I’ve always been a collector of something, and I was looking to start collecting something different,” he explains. “Something that was relatively cheap and didn’t take up much space.”

Now, about 700 PEZ dispensers later, Arms shows off more than two-thirds of his collection in acrylic cases hung from a wall in his home office. He stores the overflow in boxes or sealed in plastic storage bags, all safely tucked away inside a closet.

His most valuable dispensers are his first and favorite, Diabolic, and the Indian Maiden. He says both are around $150-200 on the open market. In addition to monetary value, he also has some that are just plain fun — like a large dog PEZ that dispenses dog treats.

Unlike some collectors who collect every stem color variation of each dispenser, Arms says he only collects “from the neck up.”

So, how does he keep track of 700 small candy dispensers while looking for new ones?

“I don’t keep a database, but I really need to start,” he explains. “I kind of do it backwards. I keep a wish list of ones I want or ones I need to complete a set.”

PEZ isn’t the only thing this alumnus collects. As an avid movie lover, Arms also has a film collection of about 4,000 DVDs, BluRays and digital copies.

Beyond the PEZ Q&A

Q. What’s your current title?
A. Behavior specialist at Shenandoah Elementary School in Orange County

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. I met a friend while taking a clinical psychology class at UCF, and he offered me a job at a group home working with adults with autism. I enjoyed it so much that I’m still working in the field almost 20 years later.

Q. Favorite thing about your job?
A. Working with children with autism and learning each of their individual characteristics

Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. Without my UCF degree, I would not be in the teaching field. UCF also allowed me to get a master’s degree in exceptional education (2001).

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. Learning to juggle in Dr. Brophy’s Psychology course

Q. Favorite childhood toy?
A. “Star Wars” X-Wing Fighter

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. Archaeologist (I loved “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”)

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. Architect

Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. Fly a plane

PEZ Fun Facts

  • Eduard Haas III invented PEZ as a breath mint in Vienna, Austria, in 1927. The name PEZ comes from the German word for peppermint, “pfefferminz,” taking the P from the first letter, E from the middle and the Z from the last letter.
  • PEZ has made its way onto both the big and small screens:
    -In “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” Elliott (Henry Thomas) showed his new friend some of his prized possessions, which included a PEZ dispenser.
    -While sitting around a campfire in “Stand By Me,” Vern (Jerry O’Connell) told his friends, if he could only have one food for the rest life, he’d choose cherry-flavored PEZ.
    -An entire episode of “Seinfeld” was based around a Tweety Bird PEZ dispenser.
  • The first PEZ collector’s convention was held in Mentor, Ohio, on June 15, 1991.
  • Pierre Omidyar and his wife, a passionate PEZ collector, wanted to set up an online platform for the exchange of PEZ characters. After the website turned out to be a success, he founded eBay in September 1995.
  • PEZ turned 80 in 2007.
  • PEZ products are available in more than 80 countries, where approximately 65 million dispensers and 4.2 billion candies are produced.
  • PEZ collector’s sets include classics like “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” and “Lord of the Rings” to more unexpected sets like “The Wizard of Oz,” U.S. Presidents, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
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