On the Trade Floor
In the big hall of the hotel convention center, the tables of specialized collectors who only deal with coasters, crowns (bottle caps), glassware, tap handles or neons are scattered about the trade floor, like booths at a flea market. The crowd mills around, buying, selling and sometimes just trading.
There is no clear distinction between buyers and vendors—even members with displays on the trade floor attend the show with the primary goal of building their own core collections. A collector may arrive with a van or U-Haul full of treasures, unload half the contents, sell a share, then pack up an equivalent amount of new stuff. The new items will either join the permanent collection or reappear at a later show in another part of the country where the items will find a fresh audience. Through this gradual sifting process, great personal collections are built.
For the true collector, the Thursday opening of the trade floor is like the start of a big game safari or deep sea fishing expedition—the trophy for the wall is out there somewhere.
Each year, just about everyone finds that one piece that makes the whole show worthwhile. Some visitors complete a collection, finally acquiring that last Coors can or a missing bock label from the hometown brewery. The proud hunter will be spotted lugging a treasure around, sharing a view with colleagues and basking in their attention.
Even though, in the breweriana field, one man’s trash can literally be another man’s treasure, there are certain collectables that are universally appreciated.
“The stamp collectors have their inverted airplane, every hobby has something like that,” explains Dave Gausepohl, a life-long collector and one of the organizers of CANvention. “In breweriana, it’s probably the old factory scenes, the lithographs that the breweries would put out over the years. The breweries would produce a line drawing or watercolor of their facility, incredible paintings with lots going on, that were displayed in bars. Taverns weren’t all the dirty little place on the corner smelling of greasy cheeseburgers and cigarettes—there were a lot that were like an extension of your living room, and that’s where the breweries would have these displayed.” These scenes can sell for between $50,000 and $75,000—serious art money.
Then there’s the mint condition beer can that sold for $19,000 on e-bay in 2003—the most ever paid for a single can at that time. Known as the Clipper Pale, the 1940s-era steel flat top can from Grace Brothers Brewery in Santa Rosa, CA, depicts the Pan Am Clipper, a flying boat that carried its passengers in luxury from San Francisco to Honolulu, Midway, Wake, Guam, Manila and on to Macau.
A find nearly as impressive caused a stir at the Denver CANvention. A lucky collector had dropped by an antique store a few months earlier and, for a modest amount of money, obtained three valuable cans known as “crowntainers” (a special type of cone top) for Oertel’s Bock out of Louisville, KY. This alert customer paid less for all three than the usual asking price for a single can, normally around $1,200. **Steve Paddack Indiana
Gausepohl recalls “At CANvention, he was having his bragger’s day, not selling them. He had them in a nice case in his room, then on the trade floor. It’s kind of cool to see and share cans of that value.”
Given the value of some of these pieces, its not surprising that owners invest a fair amount in caring for them: with travel cases, display spaces, acid-free paper and museum-quality archival material for storage, as well as thousands spent on humidity control where the collection is displayed.
Also buzzing around the trade floor in Denver was the rumor that a very famous older collector was soon going to part with his cans. Sure enough, the collection sold shortly after CANvention, returning sought-after items into circulation. With many founding BCCA members growing older, collections that have taken a lifetime to build are now being dispersed, unless a younger relative has picked up the collecting bug.
When the commotion of the trade floor wears thin, but it’s too early for a beer, members can spend time in the more educational section of the convention, devoted to small, well thought-out exhibits.
From Thursday to Saturday, specialists set up displays that showcase the best of their personal collections, in friendly competition with one another. Given specific requirements regarding dimensions and overall theme, a collector or group of collectors assembles the best of the best.
One winner in this year’s context displayed a single item from each of the 25 original American micros, a tabletop history of the modern American brewing revolution that, fittingly, took place on the 30th anniversary of New Albion Brewing Co., the first of the 25.