Hey, getcha valuable old beer collectibles here!

Andrew Leckey

October 28, 1992|By Andrew Leckey | Andrew Leckey,Tribune Media Services

While major sporting events such as baseball's World Series serve up all the beer advertising one could imagine, some folks still can't get enough of the hype.

There's a collecting cult of "breweriana," the term for just about anything that features a brewer's logo on it. This ranges from beer cans and bottles to steins, trays, openers, coasters and signs, the only limit being the imagination of brewer advertising departments over the decades.

Rare or oddball items appreciate in price, making them well worth a good search, while most mass-produced beer memorabilia remain worthless junk. For example, a mint condition Anheuser-Busch "Bud Man" stein which originally sold for $10 in 1975 recently commanded $425. Many brewer steins go for $250 or more.

A flat-top steel beer can from the tiny Tivoli Gardens brewery in Denver in the 1950s and 1960s will bring $150. A can of Rosalie Beer from Chicago-based Manhattan Brewery sold for $7,000 a decade ago because mobster Al Capone was partial owner in that business. A set of four 12-by-18-inch Pabst wildlife mirrors from 1990, initially sold for $30, now brings $200 from collectors. A 1910 Pabst paper lithograph print is valued at $1,250, while an early Miller Brewing "girl on the moon" tin sign sells for $5,000.

Now a dose of reality: Billy Beer, a once-sought-after product named after President Jimmy Carter's brother, is now worth just $1 a can.

What's interesting is the vast number of collectors worldwide, the number of organizations and the fact collectors come from all walks of life. Besides "Joe Six-Packs," there are countless doctors, professors and clergymen on board.

Pricing is quirky. "There's a good market for the more expensive items, which continue to appreciate in value, while common, low-end items are pretty soft," said William Mugrage of Lynnwood, Wash., who is writing a book on breweriana for Ballantine Books. "If you've got a good collectible beer can, there's always someone to buy it."

Many collectors place elaborate displays of beer cans or steins in their homes.

"The stein fad started five years ago and is still going strong, and rare lithographs and etched glass from turn-of-the-century breweries are also going up in value," said Paul Rahne, a Colorado Springs, Colo., school teacher who is president of the 2,400-member American Breweriana Association.

"Large metal trays from the turn of the century have increased in value, but you must make sure you're not buying one that's been heavily retouched or is a modern reproduction."

You can choose to drink a can's contents. "It doesn't affect the value of a can at all whether it has beer in it or not, since there are empty and full can collectors," said Chris Galloway, executive director of the American Breweriana Association. "You can buy items at flea markets, garage sales, distributors or conventions, but just make sure you don't pay top dollar for a rusty can."

All this can become addictive. "Some people collect napkins, bottle caps, tap knobs, you can't think of all the things," said Robert Jaeger, a retiree in Wauwatosa, Wis., a collector for 40 years and executive secretary of the 1,200-member National Association of Breweriana Advertising. "I have 650 beer bottles representing 310 different breweries."

The urge can start suddenly. "My husband came home one day and said the steins were neat and that's how we got started selling them," said Natalie Marks, who with husband Douglas operates Flash, The Antique Co., 3186 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, Calif. 91362, a mail order business. "Condition of the stein really matters in terms of value, so we try to sell only those in perfect condition."

Membership in the American Breweriana Association, P.O. Box 1157, Pueblo, Colo. 81101, is $20 annually. Members receive journals every other month and lists of exchanges for buying and selling. There's an annual meeting.

The Beer Can Collectors of America, 747 Merus Court, Fenton, Mo. 63026, has a $24 annual membership fee. Your first year, for an extra $3, you receive a flat-top can, bumper sticker, decals and back newsletter issues. There's an annual convention.

The National Association of Breweriana Advertising, 2343 Met-to-Wee Lane, Wauwatosa, Wis. 53226, has annual dues of $20.

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