The "S" Word
Forty one years ago when my brother and I and just about every male in the 6th grade collected beer cans. Unlike this current generation, our generation was accustomed to collecting things whether it was baseball cards, cereal box box-tops or cracker jack toys. The goal back then was to collect them all ! Much to the disdain of our mothers, at that time, it was a numbers game , he who had the most cans, was the winner. He who had the most cone tops was king! We would ride our bikes on Saturday morning and search roadsides for new acquisitions. Once we had all the current cans on our regional market , we started searching vacant lots and farm field dumps for obsolete brands. It didn't take long to realize, space was going to be an issue. One small dump we found, yielded 45 new additions to the collection in just one afternoon! Being kids we didn't have money for wood shelving so we would stack the cans pyramid style. That only lasted so long until a little trick we learned was to use playing cards at the end of the rows so now we could fill a whole wall. But boys being boys , the collection came crashing down numerous times. Then the BCCA and Lew Cady both came out with a Beer Can Collecting books which showed us how small our world was. We saw a great deal of cans we never knew existed from long extinct breweries. We learned new ways to find them. We saw new ways to display them. And then came the dreaded word...Specialization.
You can't collect everything. From the books ,we heard there were over 25000 different US cans and who knows how many foreign cans. One has to Specialize to control the amount of cans going into the collection. Save cans just from one's home state or region, or just the 16oz cans or just cone tops or just flat tops or the set cans which were poplar in the mid-1950s (remember collect them all ). Ken White in a 1978 article in Beer Cans Monthly suggested 23 different categories. It makes sense, none of us kids had unlimited room or money. I believe at that time my brother Ed and I choose to specialize….we would save all the cans we found ourselves. As time went on, Ed choose to go after just Chicago cans since that's is where we are from. I decided I like zip-top cans (mid 1960 pull tab cans). After moving to California in 1987 , I choose to collect California cans and still do today.
But then there comes the point in time where you just can't find many more items in your collecting specialization. You've maxed out which leads to burn out. You've searched every old barn, old liquor store, exhausted breweriana and antique shows and flea markets, nothing shows up you need on eBaY and can't find any new dumps. I've heard from many a collector that they go to shows and very seldom find any new items for their shelves. Some even quit going to shows for that reason. I believe that is a major factor why people quit collecting altogether. Or when you do find the items you desire they carry hefty price tags. You can buy a few of those every once in awhile but like John Smoller likes to say, "I like to eat steak". They are only beer cans.
So the solution to all of this and the purpose of this article (besides buying a larger house!)…………..start collecting what you like! Don't paint your self in a corner. When I moved to Kansas City from California, it was going to be hard to find new California items so I started collecting US pre-1950 flat tops. Talk about a shot in the arm, it was like being a newbie all over again. Everything was new and I needed everything. Besides those cans, I started collecting prohibition brewery Malt Syrup tins, I-7 can openers (the 1st beer can openers) ,and now even some older Coca-Cola advertising.
A good example of this is Kelly Thomle of Arizona. He is a collector of cans just from Los Angeles and Beer & Baseball advertising. After some years Kelly was not acquiring items at a rate he was accustomed to, Kelly decided to collect a Hot 100, that is 100 cans that he always wanted but never fit into his collecting specialization.
There's so much awesome breweriana and beer cans out there and it sucks to be pigeoned-holed into a certain category. Break the mold and buy something not in specialty and you will find it refreshing. Almost like being in the 6th grade again!