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Pez De Resistance

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SUE STERNFELD’S ANSWERING MACHINE welcomes callers to Pez Central, and her Queens, N.Y., living room is lined with more than 700 of the whimsical, pop-up candy dispensers. No doubt about it, Sue Sternfeld is a Pezhead. “We have to have them all,” says Sue, 34. “It’s a disease.”

It seems to be catching. Sue and her husband, Richie, 47, estimate that there are 300 to 400 Pezheads in the U.S., with more popping up all the time. Pezhead Mike Robertson of Dripping Springs, Texas, says he has 250 subscribers to The Optimistic Pezzimist, the bimonthly newsletter he publishes. “For years, we Pez collectors thought we were weirdos,” says Sue, who met Richie while trading Pez dispensers last year. “Now we’re united in this—whatever this is. Pez is going crazy, and we’re all coming out of the closet.”

For the uninitiated, Pez candy (short for peppermint in German) came to the U.S. in 1952 from Austria and soon after began to be sold in novelty dispensers to spark sales. Since then Pez Candy, Inc., based in Orange, Conn., has created hundreds of different containers—no one has cataloged them all—based on pop-cultural themes. Best-selling models include Mickey Mouse, Roadrunner and Santa Claus; the most valuable include a bride, a cowboy and Mary Poppins. The Sternfelds recently paid $600 for a pear, and Maryann Kennedy, 59, a Marshall, Minn., nursing administrator who is another champion collector, bought a Make-A-Face model for more than $400. “When I buy one that is really rare, I get a tremendous rush,” says Sue. “It’s a tremendous high.”

For the Sternfelds, who live off their sales of baby-boom memorabilia and Richie’s disability pension (he injured his hip in 1976 while an employee of the New York City Sanitation Department), that’s what makes Pez-collecting fun. “I can’t imagine ever stopping,” says Sue.