The 1939 salesman sample cooler. © 2012 Blaine Martin
Beginning in 1929 with the salesman sample of the Glascock cooler, Coca-Cola provided its salesmen with scaled-down (but exact) versions of their coolers for demonstration purposes.
These early Glascock cooler salesman samples were not produced in large numbers and not widely used or promoted at the time. Because of this they are very difficult to find today and considered rare.
The salesman sample cooler of 1939 is a different story. These sample coolers were produced in much larger numbers and were given to each route salesmen to use for demonstration to his customers.
Beginning in 1935 cooler sales were promoted heavily with yearly "contests" in which the salesmen would compete to see who could sell the most coolers. The winner would be able to receive a variety of prizes — very similar to today's modern incentive programs. By 1938 the coolers were getting much more difficult to sell due to the dwindling number of locations that didn't already have one. This reality combined with the fact that the large coolers were very heavy and hard to demonstrate — caused the Coca-Cola Company to produce miniature versions of the larger "Master" cooler for 1939 calendar year.
This miniature version is exact in every way and is approx. 10.25 inches tall x 12 inches wide x 7.25 inches deep. It was produced by Kay Displays and came in its own black leatherette carrying case along with a sample of "glass wool" insulation and a sample of "Celotex" insulation. Inside the lids of the cooler were attached two sets of cards. One set showed each of the eight models available along with their specifications. The other set contained the various selling points or attributes of the cooler.
In 1940 the design of the actual cooler was changed by adding a solid front to all models, along with a painted and embossed logo inside each lid.
To make the 1939 salesman sample useful for at least one more year, a tabbed front panel was produced to attach to the face of the older sample cooler. This made it look exactly like the 1940 models (with the exception of the new inside lid design). The booklets were discarded since they were no longer accurate.
For today's collectors the sample cooler has become an iconic piece of Coca-Cola history and is sought after by cooler collectors, salesman sample collectors and Coca-Cola collectors alike.
Many sample coolers are found in their leatherette case but with dings and chips— showing a lot of use by the salesman. Still many others are found without their case, having subsequently been used as toys for the route worker's children. The original "Business Builder" book sets are very hard to locate due to the fact that most were thrown away in 1940 . The full front attachments are also fairly scarce since comparatively few were produced.
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