I’ve decided not to focus on the substance of beer, but the material that plays a supporting role. Bottles, coasters, cans, labels, ads, tap handles, church keys, hats, t-shirts, tip trays, glassware and signs have been collected by fanatics ever since beer has been sold. These objects constitute the world of breweriana, a term that surfaced in 1972 to define any item displaying a brewery or brand name. The majority of highly prized objects are from the pre-prohibition era, but ephemera from every period in brewing history, including craft beer, finds a home with each beer drinking generation.
So what old or new beer related items do you collect and why? It’s that simple. This is your opportunity to share the treasured objects your wife or husband won’t let you display on the fireplace mantle. You don’t need to be a major collector like this guy to participate. In my mind, just a few items constitute a collection. Maybe you have mementos from a beer epiphany or road trips? You can focus on a whole collection or tell the story behind a single item.
So breweriana. Collectibles. I have been plagued my entire life — my wife would say afflicted — with a desire to collect stuff. All kinds of stuff. Stuff as varied as my interests, which run fairly far afield and tend toward the arcane. There was a time when I scoured yards sales and flea markets on weekends, now I troll eBay. I love the hunt, especially when I don’t know what I’m looking for, just something that turns my eye.
People who’ve been to our home recently know that I have not exactly been cured, despite my wife’s best efforts over the past fifteen plus years. The problem is, I tend to imbue each object with meaning, its time and place of acquisition, how it fit into my life and the story it holds. Point to any object in my home — and I do mean any — and I can tell you the tale about how I came to acquire it, including when, why and where.
But I have actually scaled back those impulses significantly and with every move and spring cleaning, I shed more and more of what can best be termed useless possessions. Objets d’art, I would say. Junk is what most people would counter. Ah, well, as the saying goes: “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
That doesn’t mean I’ve lost my obsessions, quite the opposite in fact. I just try and pick more carefully these days. Between work and family, there’s far less time than when I was younger. As for breweriana, I’m not nearly as obsessed with it as some of my other hobbies. But I do have a box of coasters, another box of labels, a handful of cans and bottles along with a number of more unique items. I also have a number of Reading Brewery pieces, because I grew up just outside of Reading, Pennsylvania, and I love their logo. For a time before I was married, I also collected globes, mostly desktop globes but I also had a few larger ones, too. That led me to start picking up some old Schlitz stuff from the time when they used the globe logo.
For that reason I have more Schlitz breweriana than any other individual brand, though not as much as I once had. I still have a few lighted signs, a couple of bottles and an old label. But the crown jewel, and one of my favorite pieces of breweriana of all-time is this golden Schlitz statue of a woman holding up a stained-glass-like globe. Both the globe and the base lights up. It stands nearly four feet high, around 45 inches. I bought it at a yard sale in San Jose, when I lived there twenty or so years ago. I’d like to say that was the end of the story, but it’s not. See below the statue to learn its ultimate fate.
As I said, I’d like to say that was the end of the story, and that it happily and proudly sits in my office today, but unfortunately that’s not what happened to it. It was not, sad to say, universally beloved and when my wife Sarah and I first moved in together after our engagement, it held an uneasy place in our new home, a bit like the wagon wheel table in the film When Harry Met Sally. So when I became the beer buyer at Beverages & more, it seemed like the right decision to decorate my office there with the Schlitz statue. And for several years it stood like a beacon on top of the small refrigerator in my office there where I kept samples.
Then one day I had a meeting with my sales rep. from Spaten USA, whose name I’ll omit to spare him any embarrassment. He was not of an inconsequential size, and for some reason while sitting in his chair, kept rocking back so the front legs were off the ground. Nervous energy, I suppose. But at one point while leaning back, he lost his balance and fell to the ground. The chair fell back, knocking into the refrigerator, setting off a chain reaction of falling objects that ended with the Schlitz lamp on the ground with the globe on top smashed into a million tiny shards of plastic. He offered to replace it, but I honestly didn’t even know how since at the time it not exactly something you could go into a store and buy. And so that was the end of my favorite piece of breweriana I’ve ever owned. Every now and again, I see one come up for auction on eBay and often fetches hundreds of dollars. But even if I found one it would not exactly be welcomed back into our house, so this favorite will have to live on only in my memory. But it was a great advertising piece. The few I’ve seen in circulation still look great, sitting on the bar back in a few old bars. It almost makes me want to drink a Schlitz.