Glass Collecting in Italy
By John Quadros
Through much of September and early October my wife, Kathy, and I traveled through Italy. She gave a presentation at a weeklong scientific conference in Sicily, and I tagged along for the ride. I had seen Nutella glasses in a Collector Glass News auction, but was only barely aware that Italy was their country of origin. Our first stop was Milan, and sightseeing as well as adjusting to the country took up all of our time. We traveled by train on a rail pass, and our next stop was Verona. A day of touring the city left us tired and thirsty back near our hotel. We sat down on a park bench outside a Pam grocery store. The fun was about to start! I went in to get us some soft drinks and wandered around the store. I suspected that if they sold Nutella it would probably be near the jams and jellies. Sure enough, there it was. The top shelf had two different sized jars of it, but both were plain glass. I was about to move on when a familiar character on a smaller sized jar caught my eye. I picked up Road Runner, and quickly found a Wile E. Coyote. Alas, no other characters were available at that location. Each Nutella glass is about 3 1/4" tall and features a full-faced portrait of the character on the front, with two action drawings of the same character on the remaining surface. A copyright symbol with "1996 Warner Bros." is the only text on the glass except for the name of the character. After paying for my purchases, I rushed outside to share the good news with Kathy. I should mention here that the collecting bug only resides in one of us in our household, so the look of glee in my eyes was not mirrored in hers. As usual, though, my ever tolerant spouse expressed delight at my find.
We took the jars to the hotel room. A small picture on the label showed a hazelnut in chocolate, and that is exactly what it tasted like - kind of a melted candy bar spread. We tried some on a plain cookie and agreed it was very tasty. The next day, we headed for sites made famous in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet". At lunchtime, we went into a McDonald's and the first thing I saw was a promotion for Olympic glasses. The poster was difficult to read, but it appeared that there were six glasses in the set. After struggling with our limited Italian, we walked away with the requisite meal, and a glass each. The glasses are just under 5 3/4" tall and have a narrow red and green stripe circling the glass near the bottom, interrupted by the McDonald's logo. Six silhouette figures of athletes representing various Olympic sports are arranged around the glass, with the figure above the McDonald's logo larger in size than the rest. On the opposite side from the larger figure is a Coca Cola logo and an Atlanta 1996 Olympic flame logo. Around the Coke logo is the phrase (in Italian): "Official drink of the 1996 Olympic Games". We hesitated about seeking more glasses for two reasons. First, we had prided ourselves in packing light. Staying in a dozen hotels over the course of our vacation and traveling by train over the length and breadth of the country, dictated that there would be some long walks with whatever we chose to put in our bags. Picking up two jars of chocolate hazel nut spread, and now two Olympic glasses at only the second stop on the journey gave us pause. Not only the added weight, but the fragility of the glasses had to be considered, not to mention the great unknown about glass collecting. How many glasses are there in this Nutella Warner Bros. set? Six...twelve...maybe even eighteen or twenty- four like the Pepsi/WB sets of the 70's?! Second, we were beginning to realize that ordering a simple thing like a Coke, Big Mac and fries had severely tasked our few days of knowledge of the Italian language. I have trouble enough here in the U.S. getting a specific glass, or one without a super-sized meal! Finally, though, we agreed to go for it. OK, so I agreed to carry the bag with any glasses in it, even though my bag didn't have those little wheely things on it. I went back up to the counter. Several minutes discussion with first one, then two and finally three employees and a quick riffling through the "Helpful Italian Phrases" book got me a small, empty paper cup. Undaunted, I walked out still later with two more glasses in the set, having been convinced that that was all that they had left. I now had "quattro bicchieri" (4 glasses). The first had red and orange athletes and featured a weightlifter as the larger character. The second was green and yellow and featured a soccer player, while the third was aqua with a volleyball player. The fourth was orange and yellow with a tennis player. Alas, I broke one of the cardinal rules of glass collecting - when you have a chance to learn what you don't have in a set, take advantage of it.
A few days later, we arrived in Florence and spied a McDonald's. It was now several weeks since the Olympic Games had ended, and a Barbie Doll promotion had replaced the Olympic glasses. I did manage to corner the manager who spoke some English. "Do you have any Olympic glasses left over," I asked. "Which ones do you need?," he replied. "Uhhhhh....," I cleverly retorted. Still later in this stimulating conversation, I determined that he had only a couple of the ones that I already had. I then violated another cardinal rule of glass collecting - when you have a chance to pick up some traders, do it. Oh well, let's try a grocery store for some Nutella glasses. "Sweetie", my lovely wife intoned, "shouldn't we see a few museums and churches while we're in the center of Italian art". "Oh yeah, those" the intrepid collector replied. And we indeed were awestruck by the beauty of Italian art and architecture. Over the next few days, though, there was sufficient time to dash into a number of small groceries. It turned out that even in the cities, the small, corner grocery was very prevalent. The large chain markets seemed to be mainly in the suburbs. We came across a Tweety, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam bringing the total to 7. I was pretty sure that there was an eighth glass and my guess was that it was Sylvester! As the number and weight of the glasses with the Nutella in it increased, we decided to dump the product inside each glass. I should mention that the consistency of Nutella spread is about halfway between chocolate syrup and peanut butter. It is dark brown in color. A quick experiment determined that neither the toilet nor the sink was the proper receptacle. "How many times are those folks upstairs going to flush that toilet?" was our imagined conversation from the floor below. Plan B was to take a plastic spoon my wife had cleverly packed and slowly scrape the spread into a plastic bag. Then, tie the top of the bag and toss it into the trash, praying that the maid wouldn't report us prior to check-out for some perverted practice. Despite jettisoning some of the weight, my load increased when I came across 2 sets of three Disney glasses (made in Germany) at a toy store just across Florence's Ponte Vecchio. Each glass is just under 5" tall with one set featuring Goofy, Donald and Mickey in a large nearly full-faced design, while the second set has two Mickeys and a Minnie in classic poses. In Sienna, I came across a second Tweety glass. Same size as the first, and also dated 1996, but Tweety is smiling in the full-face drawing whereas he is shown with a more serious look in the first glass I picked up. To this point, all of the characters except Tweety had the same spelling as we are used to. For some reason (perhaps the popularity of Tweety and Sylvester), Tweety had an Italian spelling of Titti (pronounced tee-tee.) I learned later that Sylvester was spelled as Silvestro. Next day, we found a Speedy Gonzales. Since I was pretty sure that Sylvester was a glass I had seen in the CGN auction, I suspected that #8 was not the end of the set. I also found an Assurancetourix glass from the 1995 promotion. It still hadn't reached its expiration date attesting to the stability of the spread. I learned later that there were likely 4 glasses in the 1995 set which featured characters of the very popular (at least in Europe) Asterix. In 1994, a Flintstones, Jetsons and Pink Panther set were issued.
The next stop was Rome, and posters on the subway informed us that there were five McDonald's (most cities had only one). In three days, we just happened to stop at 4 of them. All had moved on to the Barbie promotion, but I did manage to make up for my collecting mistakes in Florence. One restaurant had two leftover glasses (duplicates) so I picked them up. It also had one small sign hanging by a nylon thread from the ceiling...about 9 feet off the ground...spinning slowly in the breeze created by the air- conditioning...and in the midst of a birthday party for 25 or so screaming six year olds. I did manage to copy down the info on Olympic glasses #5 and #6. I was glad to get it, and equally as glad that nobody besides my wife saw me walking in circles, writing on a piece of paper, and squinting up at this small poster. In Rome we came across glass #9 in the WB Nutella set - it was Elmer Fudd. Our next stop was Taormina on Sicily where there were no McDonald's and only very small grocery stores. After several days of looking I came across Silvestro (Sylvester). Now I had 10, and could find no more. A friend of Kathy's at her conference suggested that since Italy is a metric country, perhaps there were only 10 in the set. I kept looking for the remainder of the trip and came across no more WB Nutella glasses. I was convinced that I had all 10 available at that time, but can not be sure about issuances after our departure. I called Nutella's U.S. outlet upon arriving home, and found that only the large sizes of Nutella are available here. The woman said that none of the "fancy" glasses were being distributed in the U.S. Meanwhile back in Italy, we passed through Milan on our last day of travel. The McDonald's there had moved on to still another promotion. I spoke with the Assistant Manager who was acting as a greeter at the front door with a bunch of balloons tied to her wrist. She said that she thought two glasses remained in her office, but that they were the same. On her way to the office, she stepped into the rest room. The sound of a half dozen balloons popping was heard, then she exited as if nothing had happened. She brought back two of glass #5 (coral and purple featuring the sport of sailing). I took out my wallet to pay for them. "Oh, no," she said "just take them". I thanked her for her trouble and we left. Glass #6 is blue and features a diver. All the glasses made it safely home the next day.
The CGN September/October issue awaited me, and I discovered that the Nutella Silvestro glass in the auction was different from the one I had picked up. I successfully bid on it. Like the Titti, it has a smiling face on one glass and a serious one on the other. I'd appreciate hearing from anyone with more info on the Nutella glasses.
This site was last updated 02/20/10