Time to put a lid on the Mystery of the Expo Percolator.
(That actually sounds like a title of one of those old Hardy Boys mysteries that I consumed like a crack addict back in the early reading days of my youth.)
I speak of the crown jewel of my Expo ’74 memorabilia collection, which occupies a place of honor on my newsroom desk.
Namely, a mint, West Bend coffeemaker bearing the official blue, green and white insignia of Spokane’s famed environmental World’s Fair.
It was love at first sight when I laid eyes on the silo-shaped metal canister gleaming from a table in the basement of a Hillyard antique mall several years ago.
Expo, of course, was an event of mass-merchandising proportions.
That six-sided logo was slapped on everything from ashtrays to collector plates to even View-Master 3-D photo disks.
But a quality coffeemaker?
Never before had I laid eyes on such a wondrously kitschy piece of Spokanalia.
I shelled out the $75 asking price without even attempting to dicker.
That sounds frivolous and wasteful, I know. But remember. I’m also the fool who paid 250 bucks for a rubber robotic singing Elvis head.
Despite my best efforts to play detective a la Frank and Joe Hardy, however, I could never unearth anything about this java-brewing treasure.
Then everything changed.
Mentioning the keepsake in a column produced a flurry of nostalgic Expo interest as well as the answer I’d been jonesing for.
“I’ve never actually seen one before,” wrote Levi Hanson in an email, “but have heard tales of its existence.”
Hanson claimed a 30-cup coffeemaker just like mine sold recently in a thrift store in its original box for $25.
“I missed this sweet deal by a few hours,” he added.
May Hogberg emailed me to say that she, too, is the proud owner of a genuine Expo ’74 coffeemaker.
Hers was a gift from her mother-in-law and “I still use it for family reunions,” she wrote.
This was all interesting. But I was still in the dark until Maureen Pring dialed my number and left the following revelatory message:
“At the time of Expo ’74 my husband was the West Bend representative in this area. He actually designed the coffeemaker and sold his company on it.”
I love finding out quirky new stuff about my hometown.
It wasn’t long before I was on the phone with Maureen and hearing the rest of this story.
“My husband would have been delighted,” she said of my coffeemaker appreciation.
John Pring, alas, passed away in July 2010.
He sounds like a good guy. After working 11 years at Spokane’s legendary Crescent department store, the former U.S. Marine was hired by West Bend.
That was 1971. Not long into a career that would last 25 years, John told his wife about a corporate push to sell personalized items.
“That was hard to do when you’re selling frying pans and pots,” added Maureen.
But all the World’s Fair hullabaloo provided John with a clever solution.
Creating an Expo ’74 coffeemaker – from prototype to finished product – “was a long and drawn-out process,” recalled Maureen.
First John had to negotiate with Expo executives, who naturally wanted a cut.
Then he had to sell his bosses on the design he came up with.
But all the effort paid off. Sure enough, the giant Wisconsin-based housewares company produced a run of Expo ’74 coffeemakers, which were offered during the fair’s run at the Crescent and a number of other stores throughout the city.
Maureen doesn’t have a clue how many units were actually sold.
By their relative rarity, however, I’m guessing these babies didn’t exactly fly off the shelves like Frisbees.
One coffeemaker memory, however, still makes Maureen chuckle.
“He never kept one for himself,” she said of her husband of 49 years. John “was just glad when it was all over.”