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How Five St. Louis Collectors Accumulated Troves of Treasure — One Piece at a Time

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Gregg Koenig has a taste for '70s-era Freakies cereal -- but only the boxes, not the actual breakfast food inside. - PHOTO BY ALLISON BABKA
  • PHOTO BY ALLISON BABKA
  • Gregg Koenig has a taste for '70s-era Freakies cereal -- but only the boxes, not the actual breakfast food inside.

Freak-ing Out

Most people buy cereal for the sugar boost or for the prizes inside. Not Gregg Koenig. He just wants the box — no cereal required.

"I just like the artwork and whole design of it," he says.

A graphic designer by trade, Koenig, 40, is fascinated by the look of cereal boxes from the '70s. He concentrates on one brand name, though: Freakies. The Ralston-Purina cereal had its heyday during that decade and Koenig didn't even discover it until a short-lived re-release in the '80s. Then he fell head over heels for the strange mascots and bold colors.

It wasn't because of the taste. "They pushed the vitamins in the cereal, but most kids didn't like it, from what I've heard," he says. "The cereal looked like Cheerios but glossed with sugar coating."

Koenig has around 35 original boxes of Freakies. He only needs four or five more to own the entire run — a rarity in the cereal collection world. It won't be easy, though, as most consumers in the '70s just threw the boxes away once the cereal ran out.

But Koenig likes the project's high degree of difficulty. "It's not like baseball cards or comics," he says. "Those are so easy; if you have the money, you just go buy it. But for cereal boxes, you have to put in a ton of homework."

Koenig is on a quest to acquire one of the remaining few intact boxes with the actual cereal inside, calling a sealed Freakies box "beyond rare." His obsession doesn't stop with the boxes, though. He also collects Freakies memorabilia: prizes, commercials and test market materials.

"I just had to have that first Freakies box, and then it snowballed," Koenig admits. "Freakies had some of the coolest premiums: posters, figures, patches and magnets. I think the people who made the premiums were in the Westport Plaza area, and you could send away for posters, t-shirts and sweatshirts. It was a huge draw!"

Some of the smaller prizes even ended up in gumball machines after the Freakies run ended, Koenig says. And he's just as proud to own those as he is to have ultra-rare concept art.

In addition to the cereal boxes, Koenig also accumulates vintage food packaging of all types, t-shirts from other eras, KISS memorabilia, board games and in-store product displays. Most of the food packaging is displayed neatly above the kitchen cabinets on the main floor, but the basement where the other items live is an adventure (and an occasional place of fascination for his one-year-old daughter).

"I'm a neat freak naturally, but I have way more stuff than what it seems like. I live in the wrong house for the collection I have," says Koenig, who shares a vintage south city row house with his wife and daughter.

And yes, his collection has been a topic of discussion in relationships over the years. "It's not anywhere near what you see on TV, but I'm sure I've crossed a line," he says.

But Koenig does have a reason for keeping so many interesting things at home — he sells almost as much as he buys. As a frequent exhibitor at toy shows, Koenig says that much of his basement stash is actually inventory.

Being a collector as well as a seller can be difficult sometimes.

"There's always the urge to hunt when I'm at a show. It's addictive to run around looking for things," he says, smiling. "It's wild, an extremely big high."