Thursday, September 07, 2006

Old Beer Can Sold On eBay For $23000

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – Beer cans of all shapes and sizes, signs from long-defunct brands and even business cards from microbreweries were among the items collectors sought as they gathered this week for an event dubbed the CANvention.

John Ahrens recalls when he was sucked into beer-can collecting. The 63-year-old suburban Philadelphia man, who was among the more than 800 people attending the 36th annual convention of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America, was a student at Yale University when his classmates began lining a ledge with cans. The CANvention started Wednesday and goes through Saturday.

By graduation, Ahrens had 250 cans, and he kept adding to them. The collection eventually grew to include about 30,000 cans – winning him a spot for about 15 years in "The Guinness Book of World Records."

Ahrens said he has since whittled his collection down to about 2,000 cans.

"Some things are unmanageable," the law book salesman said Wednesday.

Many club members are professionals, including physicians and pharmacists. They are visible from the T-shirts they wear, toting the wares of lesser-known brewers, including Moose Drool, a product of Big Sky Brewing Co. of Missoula, Mont.

They come from across the country and the world, including Japan, Germany, South America and New Zealand. Some ship their cans in advance, packing hotel elevators as they haul boxes to their rooms and the exhibition space at the Hyatt Regency Crown Center just south Kansas City.

Each is hoping to fill different gaps in their collections. Some are seeking one beer can from each country in the world. Others specialize in memorabilia from brewers from specific cities or eras.

The group started in St. Louis in 1970, when about six people began meeting to discuss their collections. The first convention was held a year later in a suburb of St. Louis.

The group's membership peaked at about 10,500 later that decade and has since shrunk to under 3,000. Many members are nearing or well into retirement. Only 24 are under 30.

"It's the nature of our society," said Rich La Susa, of Gold Canyon, Ariz. "Young people don't collect."

Member bylaws discourage selling memorabilia, though it still occurs in the hotel rooms. Purists, members explained, believe cans and other collectibles should be traded or given away.

In the main exhibition area, members must trade to add to their collections.

But in the past 10 or 15 years, people started selling their cans, and the prices they can fetch are growing. Marcia Butterbaugh, a former president of the club, said one can recently sold on the Internet auction site eBay for $23,000.

Butterbaugh, 63, said the high-dollar can was produced in the 1940s by Anheuser-Busch Cos. and featured a cone-shaped top. But Butterbaugh said many cans can still be bought for about 50 cents.

She is one of the small number of women in the group and specializes in flattop cans that had to be punctured to free their contents. Her husband, Craig Retchless, collects specific types of signs.

Their collection is spread throughout their home in Kearney. "Even in the bathrooms," Butterbaugh said.

Another longtime member, Lew Cady, 69, of Denver, wrote "Beer Can Collecting," an out-of-print book that profiles several early collectors and features tips on restoring dented and rusty cans. About 80,000 copies were sold.

He said the hobby can be cheap.

"You can start a collection walking along a country road," he said.

One chapter of the group, the Rusty Bunch, searches for cans at former camp sites and along ravines – sometimes using metal detectors. Members of that branch are bringing their extra cans to the convention. They plan to dump their finds on the ground Saturday and allow attendees to dig through the rubble.

Children are invited to participate and get a head start.

In between trading, convention-goers also will tour Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing Co., which is contributing beer to a tasting event that will feature drinks from several other smaller breweries.

Official Price Guide to Beer Cans