By CHELSEA CORMELL
MANY years ago, when Toodyay shopkeeper Brian Dawes first began collecting Coca-Cola bottle tops by the dozen as kid, it all seemed harmless enough.
Every dozen he collected earned him a miniature glass Coke bottle from the local service station.
And every two dozen glass bottles earned him a miniature crate to put them in.
But just as Coke grew from its humble beginnings in 1886 as a medical elixir consumed by the spoonful and buggied around the streets of Atlanta, Georgia, on a horse cart by chemist John Pemberton, so did Brian's compulsion to continue to add to his collection.
And while the "Cola Cafe & Museum" he established earlier this year in Toodyay is a far cry from the empire of its namesake, his passion for all things Coke has earned him a reputation among the world's best.
Former president of the WA Coke Collectors Club, Brian now acts as a liaison between WA's 60-member collector club, individual international Coke executives, with whom he has become personal friends, and the rest of the planet's 9000 Coke-crazed hoarders.
But Brian's favourite treasure offers the truest tribute to his mammoth collector efforts, which began more than 40 years ago.
Tucked away in the clutter of Coke "this and that" is a personally addressed letter to Brian from former CEO Roberto Goizueto, who was known as one of America's great businessmen.
Brian told Farm Weekly the letter begins: "Word has reached me you are an avid Coke collector."
Describing it as his most prized possession, he said he had gone to great lengths to build his 5000-piece collection, including shipping fridges, antique drink dispenser machines and countless other collectables from his home in Zimbabwe to Australia.
Some of the more rare items on display in Brian's collection include special edition collector cans, a centennial celebration Coke trophy, a 1933 pen knife from the world trade fair and items issued only to Coke VIPs.
More precious items, such as gold coins, remain locked away.
Brian was not prepared to put a figure on his 5000-piece collection, but estimated a fellow collector, who had spent about $50,000 on his collection, recently sold it for more than five times that amount.
However, the biggest thrill has not been about the dollars and cents of it for Brian, although he admitted to getting a bit of a kick out of spending more than $1000 on some special items.
Instead for Brian it has been a dream come true, a way to earn a buck from doing something he loves.
"I get so much pleasure because it is out for people to see and I can share it with the public," he said.
Weekends are the busiest time for Brian and his team at the cafe, but since opening on Toodyay's main strip, there has been a steady stream of curious tourists with an appetite for a bit of history served with their coffee and cake, or Coke.