I blog primarily over at "geosciblog" (http://geosciblog.blogspot.com), I am doing this one for fun. It is inspired by 30+ years of beer can collecting and having tried more than 3,000 different American beers during that time. “. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Beer Can and Breweriana Collecting

The above pictured almost-mint condition "flattop" cans from the late 1930s to the early 1960s represent some of the elite collectibles among those that specialize in cans. They can range in value from $10 to the thousands. For those on a budget or in it just for fun, there can be rusty varieties of the same rare cans that range in value from .25 to $10 or $20.

But what is breweriana? It is beer-related containers and advertising materials, i.e., almost anything that has a brewery logo. There are three major breweriana collecting organizations, the B.C.C.A. - Brewery Collectibles Club of America (originally the Beer Can Collectors of America); the A.B.A. - the American Breweriana Association; and the N.A.B.A. - National Association of Brewery Advertising. Each of these organizations has a number of local chapters.

It seems that the earliest type of beer collectible (breweriana) of significant varieties were the metal bottle caps (crowns) developed in the 1890s. At that time, many of the bottles were returnable, embossed bottles. As more beer bottles appeared with paper labels, the labels became a popular collectible. With the approach of Prohibition in 1920, there were individuals that "squirreled away" items from the many breweries faced with closure.

The end of Prohibition in 1933 was followed by the debut of the first beer can in 1935 and the associated can opener. The novelty of beer in cans and their "stackability" (as opposed to bottles) let bar owners, brewery employees, and other individuals to start collecting cans. Many of the breweries that re-opened after the 13 years of closure during Prohibition went out of business within a short time. Most of the breweries that "kept busy" during Prohibition by making near beer, soft drinks, ice cream, or other products were more well-prepared to re-enter the business. Many of the breweries that had shut down completely during Prohibition encountered numerous equipment problems from lack of use during those 13 years. Thus, there were a large number of "short-run" brands from the middle and late 1930s. The few individual collectors lacked a method of contacting one another to swap cans, unless they found one another by accident or word-of-mouth.

The B.C.C.A. is the oldest of the three organizations. It began in 1970 in the St. Louis, MO area. An October 20, 1969 article in the St. Louis Globe Democrat featured the beer can collection of local resident Denver Wright, Jr.. Several other individual collectors contacted him after reading the article and in April 1970, the Beer Can Collectors of America was born. The collectors visited each other's homes and swapped their extra cans. Word of mouth and news reports helped spread the word.

Over the years, the hobby that began with the swapping of beer cans (buying and selling was severely frowned upon) has matured into the buying and selling of breweriana items at shows and on ebay that can reach into the thousands of dollars. The mid-1970s debut of microbreweries produced a new wave of brewery collectibles (labels, bottles, crowns, coasters, glassware, and even a few cans) and because some of the new breweries didn't last long, some of these items are now becoming rare. Items such as coasters and labels are popular because they are easy to mail and do not take up as much space as cans or bottles.

The peak of B.C.C.A. membership was 1978 during the "fad period" (see the Billy Beer post), when there were 12,000 members. Since the late 1980s or so, the membership has remained consistently near 4,000. It is estimated that for every B.C.C.A. member, there are 9 other collectors in the U.S.. B.C.C.A. membership is open to people from other countries and the B.C.C.A. website links to collectors clubs in those nations.

Membership in these three organizations carries the following benefits (they vary somewhat between these organizations:
1) A membership roster, making easier to contact fellow collectors.
2) A "grapevine" through which to swap information.
3) An annual national convention and numerous regional shows.
4) A periodic journal/magazine devoted to the hobby.

The B.C.C.A.'s CANVENTION® is the most well-known of the national meetings. The term was coined during the first B.C.C.A. convention in 1970 in St. Louis, MO.. CANVENTION 35 is in Charlotte, NC from August 31 - September 3, 2005 in the Charlotte Convention Center. Unofficial events usually include a local microbrewery/brewpub tour before the CANVENTION and other activities for family members that want to see local sights. During the CANVENTION, there are meetings of various local and at-large chapters devoted to particular speciality items, Microbrewery Night, a business meeting and several days of a trade floor with buying, selling, and trading between collectors takes place. There is also "room-to-room" trading. The CANVENTION is open only to members, except on Saturday morning, when the public is usually invited into the trade floor area. Next year, the CANVENTION is in Kansas City, MO..

You don't have to drink beer to collect these items. Some of local chapter (club) members simply enjoy the artwork on the cans and other collectibles. Or they enjoy the company of fellow eccentrics. There is a wide range of professions in the hobby, including doctors, lawyers, teachers, police officers, military members, farmers, truck drivers, homemakers, a priest, and even a NASCAR driver, Rich Bickle. We have three geologists in our local chapter.

As mentioned earlier, there are specialty chapters, one of which is the Rusty Bunch, whose members take to the woods in search of past-discarded cans in old dumps (we call this activity dumping, of course). The idea is similar to adding a "filler" coin or stamp to a collection, i.e., an off-grade example of a rare can that can be hopefully upgraded in the future. But sometimes, people prefer to keep their dumper cans, as there can be quite entertaining (and sometimes harrowing) stories associated with getting old beer cans.

If you live near a large or medium-sized city, there is a chance that there is a local beer can/breweriana show sometime during the year. The local shows are easier for non-members to attend just to have a "look around". Or maybe pick up a few items for their rec room or den that remind them of the beer that Grandpa (or Grandma) used to enjoy.
I have an old mug that my grandfather drank from, it was supposed to come from prohibition and was sold as a tonic or some other medicinal potion. It says "Mc Avoy's Alma Mater -Prosit"
Do you know anything about this mug.
I would appreciate any information you could give me.
Thank you,
Tom Crossett
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