Doublemint ConditionJoanne Brunet collects gum. Lots and lots of gum, from 80-year-old Wrigley classics to a special pack commemorating The Six Million Dollar Man.
By Joseph & Carol Berke
Quartzsite Joanne Brunet, 73, is stuck on chewing gum. For the past six decades, she's collected more than 4,000 packages of chewing gum, bubble gum, gumball vending machines and gum-related posters, which she exhibits in 109 display cases at her free-admission gallery in Quartzsite.
Brunet and her sister began collecting gum at age 10. "We bought a package of gum and saved a stick for our collection," Joanne says. "I don't even know why I started. Perhaps it was the only thing we could afford at the time." Although she occasionally chews gum, Brunet makes sure that she already has that particular piece of gum in her collection before popping it in her mouth.
The collection's 4,000 packages and sticks of gum are from the United States and 28 other countries. All are in their original wrapping, and many still have collectible cards inside. "I wouldn't know a good baseball card if I saw one," she says. "I constantly have offers to buy the cards from the packages, but they're not for sale."
One stick of Juicy Fruit has the year 1935 printed on the wrapper. It was found in an abandoned mine shaft near the town of Ryan, California, outside Death Valley National Park. The oldest gum in the collection is a stick of Doublemint, which, according to the William Wrigley Jr. Co. of Chicago, dates back to 1932-1935.
Other unique gums in the gallery include those replicating record album covers from The Beatles, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and others. There's gum honoring the 1969 Apollo moonwalk, gum in the form of superhero watchbands, and gum celebrating classic TV shows like Dallas and The Six Million Dollar Man.
Brunet's husband, Sonny, supports his wife by building the display cases as the collection grows. In 2002, when the cases overwhelmed their modest home, Sonny built a 540-square-foot building at the back of their property, which now houses the gum gallery. Sonny also drives their motor home on gum-finding trips around the country. "He thought that gum-collecting was a strange hobby, but it came with me after we met," Brunet says.
Collecting gum is a family affair, she adds. "My daughter Deb and daughter-in-law Judy take pictures of our collection, and we take the album with us on our travels in our motor home. Whenever we find some gum, we check the album to see if we already have it in the collection. If not, we buy it."
Maggie James, a winter visitor from Ontario, Oregon, learned of the gum gallery when she met Brunet at her volunteer job with the Salvation Army in 2007. "I never saw anything like it in my life," she says. "It is a valuable American resource, as everyone chewed gum sometime in their life. She really has something unique."