I started collecting beer cans the summer of 1975 when I was only 8 years old! During my childhood, I would visit a cousin in West Virginia. We would play in the coal mines and shale piles and go home looking like miners. We didn’t know at the time that beer can collecting would be a “thing” but started having a friendly (almost) competition who could collect the most different beer cans on the way home. Back in 1975 there were plenty of old cans in the mining areas, exposed dumps along our route and litter along the roads. We didn’t pick up any of those funny looking cans (cone tops) because they didn’t stack well. I don’t remember brands, but I can remember 100’s of them in dumps and mining trash areas. Wish I could go back in time. After a few summers of this ritual we both accumulated a few hundred cans.
Several years passed (maybe 1978) and our cans collected dust in the attic of his West Virginia home. Now the beer can collecting craze started to take off in my home town Chicago. Just about ever kid was collecting and trading. No selling was being done at that time and it was all about who had the most. I could not believe how many collectors there were just in walking distance from my home. I restarted collecting the local cans in Chicago but this was different. They were mostly aluminum, not as old and mostly just national brands. I would brag about how big my collection would be if I had my West Virginia collection at home. I collected for about another 3-5 years before other interests kicked in and that collection found its way into my parent’s attic.
I remember looking in the classified ads for used cars in 1986 and seeing a few adds for beer cans. They were selling (I think one was for even free if I remove them) and similar ads. It sparked my interest once more. I think I picked up three collections. I now had a car and means to get around to haul cans. I started sorting and had a fair amount of cone tops and flat tops. I never sorted this way before. It was always about quantity not type, value or rarity. While looking for more collections in the classified, I came across advertisement for a beer can show at the Chicago Library. I found my way there. This is when the magic and bug really hit. I saw so many cans and could not believe the prices! Even what we would consider a deal today was expensive then. Many cans costing $100 or more. I kept saying to myself, “I know I have one of those”. I didn’t buy any cans but did pick up some guides. Now the real race was on.
I picked up the can collections in my Cousin’s attic, down came the cans from my parent attic and now the grand sorting happened. I don’t remember exact quantities but I threw out all the aluminum and even cans with bar codes. Must have had approximately 60 cone tops, well over 200 flat tops and maybe 1000 straight steel. I didn’t know at the time but this was the beginning of my own legacy.
In 1989 I moved out into my first place. I was broke and barley could afford (or not) all my bills but I took out ads in the papers, attended some more shows and threw out all my cans except cones and flats. I wonder how many nice steels cans I crushed. I was now only buying or trading for cones and flats. My first big score was a response to an ad from a guy who had 10 VR Vat Reserve and 1 Boston Light J-spout cones. I quickly purchased them for the most I ever spent on cans (not very much) and I believe I even missed paying the mortgage that month.
I remember trading 8 VR’s for other cans I liked. My first trade at a show was with a guy named Ziggy. I’ll bet someone will remember that name. The Boston Light Ale J-Spout was they key for my advanced collecting. I liked that can so much and at the time I think it was the only one or possible one of the best in the world. I had a claim to fame!
I decided to sell off all my flat tops, crowntainers and regular conetops to just specialize in J-Spouts. I think every collector figures out its easier to specializing in a certain categories of cans then collect everything. My personal rule was if I sold cans, I only used the money to purchase J-Spouts and I only traded for J-Spouts. My first real expensive can purchase was Frederick’s J-spout from Ted Larson for $1000! I thought that was so much money back then but wanted it and after all it was like free since it was money from selling other cans. Soon I was known as the guy collecting J-spouts and had many scouts giving me leads. Read more about my J-spout collection here.
In 1990 I was just techy enough to buy the domain Conetops.com and create my own website on Page Maker. I think I may have been one of the first beer can websites buying, selling and trading online. The first 3 years were great with no competition. I could not believe the quality and quantity of cans I was getting. Read more about my finds here.
The next 25 years I accumulated and sold my collections 4 times. Why? I’ve always looked at using my hobby and enjoyment of collecting as my savings account, not something to hoard or never part with. I could put cash in the bank and either get no return on investment or I can enjoy the collecting, displaying the cans and with some sensible trades and purchases maybe even get more return on investment then investing a conventional way.
Let’s not forget the other reason why many collect, to meet and make friends! I have met so many people with the same interest. I look forward to sharing stories and beer when I meet up. This will be a hobby for me to the end. I take breaks here and there but still keep an eye out for the next can.