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Colonel Sanders KFC Collector

Col. Sanders mystique still alive

Shelbyville collector wants
to sell his KFC-related items

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. (April 2003) – At the time of his death in 1980, Col. Harland D. Sanders had achieved international recognition for his success in the restaurant industry. His popularity ranked him alongside such notable figures as Muhammad Ali and Elvis Presley.
Born on Sept. 9, 1890, the legacy the Henryville, Ind., native left behind continues to pique the curiosity of millions of people. Upon the death of his second wife on Dec. 31, 1996, Claudia Ledington Sanders, Col. Sanders’ earthly possessions were auctioned off from Claudia’s Shelbyville, Ky., home.

Joe Ruble and Larry Rogers

Photo by Helen E. McKinney

From left, collector Joe Ruble
and Larry K. Rogers with
Col. Sanders memorabilia.

Shelbyville resident Joe Ruble purchased a large portion of the Colonel’s private collection. Ruble said he felt the items would be of collector-value someday because the Colonel, “Put Kentucky on the map overseas, and literally everywhere.”
The collection includes more than 100 black-and-white photographs of the Colonel, the Colonel’s original briefcase (containing a Canadian air label), Claudia’s gloves, paintings created especially for the Colonel, an engraved punch bowl set, and many framed portraits of the couple, as well as other numerous items.
Ruble has now decided to part with his collection, teaming with local Realtor Larry K. Rogers, to do so. Both men want to offer the items for sale to any interested parties. Both said they would prefer the entire collection to be sold to one individual to preserve its unity but may eventually offer them on Ebay, if no buyers are found.
Rogers said he would like to see Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisees get the first shot at the items. In his 1974 autobiography, the Colonel wrote, “The business I developed was a personal one. I knew the franchisees by their first names. We (were) just one big family.”
When not traveling to franchisees, “with my broilers, tubs of spice and other cooking gear in the back of my car,” the Colonel would often invite prospective franchisees into his home and cook chicken for them himself.
He boasted to his first franchisee, Pete Harmon, as he made him a batch of chicken and gravy in Harmon’s Salt Lake City home, “This gravy’s so good you can throw the chicken away and eat the gravy.”
Never lacking confidence in his product, the Colonel defined his own niche in history by bringing his “convenience” product to the forefront of American society. He referred to it as, “Sunday dinner, seven days a week.” Ruble and Rogers said this collection might also be of interest to museums or historical societies.
Other items that were auctioned from Claudia’s 3,600-square-foot Brentwood Estate home included: a black lacquered baby grand piano, cherry china cabinet, china, mink stole and cape, oriental vases, crystal stemware, horse prints, julep cups, Derby glasses and the Colonel’s blue Mercedes.
The Colonel’s chicken empire had humble beginnings in the 1930s in Corbin, Ky. His Sanders Café grew into a 142-seat enterprise with an attached motel. Rather than rebuild after the business burned, and due to a bypass built around Corbin in the early 1950s that decreased his business, the Colonel eventually relocated to Shelbyville.
In the meantime, he had been perfecting his KFC recipe. In his autobiography, he wrote that he was afraid to change the ingredients. “I had worked on it, perfecting it every way I could.”
At age 65, the Colonel was faced with the prospect of retiring and living on his $105 Social Security checks. Persistency paid off for the Colonel as he began to market his product.
In 1964, Jack Massey and John Y. Brown Jr. paid the Colonel $2 million for his business. The Colonel also pocketed $40,000 a year from the deal until his death. Brown and Massey are credited with instigating the huge advertising campaign that drew the world’s attention to KFC.
On July 8, 1971, the two men sold KFC Corp. for $285 million to Heublein Inc., a food and liquor conglomerate. Heublein Inc. was in turn acquired by what is now RJR Nabisco Inc. in 1982, and then PepsiCo Inc. in 1986. Today, there are more than 11,000 KFC restaurants in more than 80 countries and territories around the world.

• For more information or to view this private collection, call Rogers at (502) 682-0707.

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