Introduced by the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company in 1935, the company tested 2000 cans of its beer and cream ale in Richmond, Virginia to overwhelming results. 91% of the drinkers approved of the canned beer and an industry – not to mention a collectibles category – was born.
Though many beer snobs snort, sniff and look down upon the canned stuff, sales of canned beer account for nearly half of the beer industry's $20 billion US take – and both updscale and microbrewers have embraced the humble can in recent years thanks to its ability to maintain purity and prevent oxidation.
In fact, one of my favorite brews of recent years is Dale's Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Grill & Brewery in Colorado. A hoppy, somewhat creamy brew, Dale's packs a wallop thanks to its 6.50% ABV. It'll knock you on your ass and makes a great beer to cook with, especially brats.
Though some of the information and sales data may be a little out-of-date, here's an article I wrote about beer can collecting a couple years ago for my collectibles column:
Mention beer can collecting to most people and they picture the disco-era hobby that was the fancy of nearly every teenage boy in America. Who didn't have a wall or shelf lined with cans from brewers such as Schlitz, Schaefer or Genesee? Novelty brews celebrated everything from Presidential siblings (Billy Beer) to popular television shows (J.R. Beer). Beer can collecting was everywhere and healthier than ever.
By the 1980s, though, the hobby had gone through its "fad" stage and interest was down. Like baseball cards before them, can collections were sold at garage sales, stuffed into attics or tossed in the trash.
Today, the hobby is experiencing renewed growth. Thanks to the explosion of interest in microbrews and the emergence of on-line auctions, beer can collecting has evolved into a larger hobby known as "breweriana."
While cans are still prized above all else, some collectors now seek anything featuring a brewer's name. From cans and bottles to caps (a single, unused bottle cap can bring as much as $100.00), labels, glassware and trays, collectors are shelling out top dollar for items commemorating what may have been your grandfather's favorite beer.
Especially prized are pre-Prohibition items from breweries like Bellingham Bay Brewery in Washington. It never reopened after Prohibition was repealed making advertising items scarce. One collector recently paid nearly $1200.00 for a tin tray from the defunct company.
Related collectibles like placemats are also popular with collectors and often cross into other categories, like baseball. A 1964 Schlitz placemat featuring the schedule and logo of the Milwaukee Braves recently fetched $25.00 on eBay.
During a recent garage sale excursion I purchased a stack of tray liners promoting Hamms Beer and the Baltimore Orioles. Complete with schedule and lyrics to the team's fight song, the early 1960s placemats sold for more than $400.00 thanks to frenzied on-line bidding. Not bad for a $5.00 investment.
Beer coolers are also hot with collectors. A fan of Lone Star Beer – brewed with "Pure Artisian Water" – shelled out more than $200.00 for a vintage metal cooler, while similar items for brands like Hamms, Ajax, Budweiser and Schlitz bring $20.00 to $300.00, depending upon condition.
While caps, trays and coolers all have their fans, beer cans continue to drive the hobby. Last year, one of a dozen known Clipper Pale Ale cans sold for $19,000 on eBay. While that set a record in the hobby, sales in the hundreds and thousands of dollars for a single can are common.
A pre-World War II can of Town Club Beer from Interstate Brewing recently sold on-line for an even $1400.00 while a cone top can of Chief Oshkosh Pilsener (sic) Beer – complete with misspelling – saw furious bidding end at $1174.00. (Cone tops often bring high prices since the design was popular with smaller breweries.)
Though everyone knows he prefers martinis, shaken not stirred, cans for something called James Bond 007 Special Blend bring a sobering $300.00 to $500.00 at auction.
If you'd like to learn more about breweriana, take a trip to an area event. The website of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America features details on upcoming shows and you can visit www.bcca.com for information.
And what about those novelty cans of Billy Beer and J.R. Beer? Unfortunately, they were viewed as future collectibles by many and are very common. If you can get a dollar or two for any of these cans, take the money and get yourself an ice cold bottle – or can – of your favorite beverage.