Breweriana: Treasure Hunter's Guide to Nostalgic Collectibles from the World of Beer

Breweriana has been come to be known as the collectable detritus of brewing’s past. The term breweriana first appeared in the U.S. as the 1972 founding of the National Association of Breweriana Advertising. Most beer fans consider old beer signs, neon signs, advertising bills, old rusty beer cans, pint glasses, t-shirts, patches, or anything with a brewery’s logo on it to be breweriana. The collectiblility potential of breweriana is easy to see – some people have been able to make a great deal of money through the sale of breweriana antiques.

Breweriana is a popular field of collectables for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as with most collectables, is nostalgia. To determine the nostalgic value of an item you must look at how trivial items play through history. The item must also be authentic to be worth much. Knock off nostalgia items tend to break the spell of nostalgia eventually. As with other fields, in the area of breweriana, it is important to look at discontinued items.

Another reason why it may be profitable to trade in breweriana is that many bars look for these ancient items when assembling their décor. If you run across a big sign or neon from an antique dealer or scrapyard hustler, you might be able to turn a profit by inquiring at local pubs and the hipper dive bars. The antique décor motif is one used in curiosity shops, bars, and even big chain stores like the cracker barrel.

When looking at breweriana, it is a good idea to find out about the location of the brewery that first created the breweriana. Regionally, breweriana from closed down and defunct breweries is more valuable than it is nationally. This is because more people recognize the name brand of their once-local brewery or brewpub. It is a good bet that an old beer sign can fetch a better price in the state that it was originally displayed.

There are many folks that collect beer cans and bottles from the past. These items must be handled with care, as the beer contained within (if any) has often undergone a hideous transformation. Most collectors drill a small hole in the bottom of the can and drain the sometimes-noxious contents before setting the collectable on the shelf. Bottle caps can be pried off carefully and re-applied to achieve the same effect.

Keep a look out for older cans. Cone tops, crowntainers, and flattops are among the most valuable. Cone tops and crowntainers both have a cone like top, which was usually capped with what we cap bottle caps these days. Flattops had no tab and required a bottle opener to get at the beer inside. “Instructionals” is the term for flattops that have instructions for opening listed on the side of the can.

Some of these cans, the earliest from the Krueger Company, required their own can openers. Flattops had no tab and required a bottle opener to get at the beer inside. The "flattops" needed a regular can opener, the sharp lever-pry type. Some of these collectibles (the openers) are usually formed from a piece of steel rod which loops around and is about 5-6 inches long. Usually the beer can openers have a stamp from the beer manufacturer. One of the more popular pieces of breweriana among private collectors is the crown, or bottle cap. Bottle caps were initially manufactured in the 1890’s. Those that survived through prohibition are the hardest to find, and most of those are from defunct breweries.

Beer signs, or even posters, are another hot item, mostly because they are sought after by bars and pubs to add to their décor. Some older signs look like posters but have been printed on sheet metal. We can see reproductions of these items out on the market as well, such as the old Guinness mascot, the beer-swilling Toucan. The original designs are worth a lot, not so much for the reproductions.

When looking for breweriana, make sure you know what you are looking at. There are many books out on the subject now, such as Beer Signs for the Collector and the Beer Advertising Memorabilia series. A visit to Amazon.com or your local library will give you some insight on this field of antiques.

See related:
Breweriana: Collectible Beer Signs
Breweriana: Collectible Pint Glasses
Breweriana: Specialty Beer Glasses
Breweriana: Collectible Beer Steins

Breweriana: Collectible Beer Signs

Beer Sign

Many beer fans these days are decorating their home bars with the breweriana of the past. One field of breweriana is collectible beer signs. These signs come from many places – bars, restaurants, gas stations, and in many forms. Some beer signs are stamped metal, some are neon, and then there are the painted mirror variety. A fine old antique beer sign sure can liven up your home bar or den, and with many reproduction signs available, prices are coming down for this unique home décor item.

From antique European beer steins to pint glasses to neon signs, the realm of breweriana offers a wide variety of collectibles for beer fans the world over.

One item that no home bar should be without is a clever old beer sign. Many of the slogans used to sell beer are quite catchy. Steel or tin signs reading "Beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder", and even "Best Head in Town… Get it at Luckey’s Bar" can be found as originals or reproductions to spruce up your home bar in a comic fashion.

The advent of reproduction beer signs certainly has brought down the market for the antiques, at least for those that have been re-made. For those home bar owners who have yet to invest in an antique beer sign, this is good news! Now you can get great vintage-seeming beer signs at low prices. But for antique collectors, do not fret. If you are the one who has a great old beer sign that hasn’t yet been reproduced, you may find a buyer or have some reproductions made yourself.

One of the flashiest types of beer sign made is, of course, the neon beer sign. Almost every brand currently in large-scale production has neon beer signs made to advertise their product. Even some micro brews have these neon beer signs. Although the theories leading up to the invention of neon date back to 1675, the first neon lamp on public display occurred in Paris, France on December 11, 1910. The inventor, Georges Claude, patented his invention is 1915 in the U.S. and sold the first commercially produced neon signs to a Packard car dealership in 1924 for a whopping $2400 (for two). It was not long after that neon signs started springing up everywhere, including bars and the Vegas Strip.

Vintage neon beer signs are rare items. Neon is notorious for its short lifespan. One of the oldest neon signs still glowing belongs to "Luckey’s" bar in Eugene, Oregon. The sign currently resides indoors, due to a law banning large signs in the town which was passed in the 1970’s. The Air Devil Inn of Louisville, Kentucky claims their sign is also from 1934. This would seem to be the logical date for any of the oldest remaining, intact neon beer-related signs. 1934 was a good year, after all, the year that prohibition ended in the United States!

Of all the forms that beer collectibles take, the beer sign is one that most effectively lends the flavor of the era in which it was made. Anywhere a vintage beer sign is hung lends an aura of authenticity to the room. You will find many bars collect and line the walls of their establishments with these old signs, beer posters, and other vintage breweriana. Why not your home bar?

Breweriana: Collectible Pint Glasses

Collecting takes many forms, and in the world of beer collectibles, or breweriana, one of the most popular collectibles are the vessel by which beer is imbibed. From the early days of earthenware steins to crystal goblets, beer has been enjoyed in a variety of vessels. In recent times, the glass that most accurately symbolizes good beer is the pint glass, and many brew pubs and breweries have released their own logo-ed pint glasses, which are treasured collectibles for fans of their brand.

Pint Glasses

The number and variety of collectable items related to beer is staggering.  From beer signs dating back to prohibition days, to antique steins from Europe, to painted bar mirrors, to modern day pint glasses, breweriana is seen from coast to coast.  Of the many forms breweriana has taken, it is the pint glass which has now come to the fore of the modern collector’s shelf.

A look at the collector’s market for antique beer collectables will show you just how much beer vessels can fetch.  Some go for as little as $5, but the older items can fetch hundreds or even a thousand dollars!  Of course, you may not be around by the time your pint glasses are worth that much, but collecting is best when it is about enjoying what you have, not selling it!

These days, most commercial beer makers have produced pint glasses with their logo emblazoned upon them.  These are sold to the public at many breweries, and also to commercial bars, restaurants, and suppliers in the food and beverage industry.  The most collectable of these is the limited edition pint glass.  Usually minted in order to celebrate a special seasonal beer, these are sold at the brewery and at beer garden festivals as well. 

Commemorative pint glasses like these are great reminders of good times and good beer.  But not all commemorative pint glasses are produced for beer.  Many events are now making their own commemorative pint glasses as part of a lucrative merchandising strategy.  Events like Phoenix’s World Invitational Joust, Sports clubs, and even bands are producing pint glasses to commemorate shows, parties, and seasons.  In this way, pint glasses are beginning to move past the realm of breweriana into larger scopes of collectables. 

It is nice to have some different pint glasses around for social events as well.  A glass like the Phoenix’s World Invitational Joust commemorative pint glass can be a great conversation starter!  Glasses from local brewpubs can also remind people of good times they had there.  “Remember when…”

Often, a set of pint glasses will have a matching beer tap handle.  For those breweriana fans that own their own home draft beer system, these tap handles can add a nice touch to your serving.  There are many places on-line that sell different beer tap handles, and on ebay you can even find sets of matching pint glasses that come with the beer tap handle.

Collecting pint glasses is a common practice among home brewers and home bar owners.  Keeping an eye out for unique and interesting pint glasses can enhance your home bar experience and that of you guests – so keep an eye out for ‘em!

Breweriana: Specialty Beer Glasses

Specialty Beer Glasses

Specialty glasses have existed throughout the ages, whether they are for wine, champagne, or different types of beers. From crystal goblets to stoneware steins, and, more recently, Belgian glass goblets, glass, ceramic, wood, and metal crafters have produced their visions of the perfect vessel for the perfect drink. The ratio of slope to surface area, breathing area, and volume contained within, are all tailored to the liquid viscosity and temperament of the beverage in question.

Having a unique specialty beer glass for each of your alcoholic beverages has always helped to make the moment special. Who ever heard of sitting around the local pub, drinking mugs of ale? That may be true for mid-evil re-creationists, but most beer fans prefer pint glasses. That way you can see what you’re drinking. In mid-evil times, you didn’t always WANT to see what you were drinking.

Having a nice rack of differing specialty beer glasses is good for when company comes over. It can encourage your friends to bring some fine ale if you have some Chimay glasses around. These glasses are called chalices, and feature a wide, flat bottom and straight sides to allow the many aromas of the monk-style Belgian ales to be smelled.

Having a set of German bier Steins up on the shelf may also lend clues to guests as to what you’d like at the next potluck (better Heineken than Budweiser, at least). The stein and the mug are best suited for ales of the inimitably quaffable kind. Beer that is guzzled easily. Beer that you want to drink a lot of because you want to become intoxicated.

European specialty beers often fall into the category of beers that should be served in specialty beer glasses. If you walk into a bar that serves a selection of Belgian ales, this is a good place to learn more about the difference between specialty beer glasses, but until then take my word for it: Weiss biers and hefeweisens have a glass which is curvy and top heavy. This gives a little lip at the bottom to catch any yeast sediment, which may result from drinking the bottle-conditioned variety of theses ales.

Pilsner glasses are the more straightforward, simple and elegant tall glasses with only the slightest of curves. The relatively narrow top channels the bitter aromas into the nose, facilitating an aromatic blast with each swig.

Lambics, being specialty ales from a nation of specialty ales, are best indulged in what is known as a flute glass. This resembles a champagne glass, but with more curves. This keeps the bubbles moving around, for like champagne, lambics are highly carbonated. The narrow top keeps the aromas from floating about too much.

Barley wine glasses usually hold less beer – barley wines being much stronger in alcohol and flavor than regular beers (around 7%-12% alcohol). In order to prevent patrons from stumbling over each other drunk or passing out in the bar, the volume of the glass is decreased. The glasses usually have a fairly open top to allow the rich and malty bouquet of the barley wine to waft above the specialty glass. Go to a good barley wine tasting and you will see what it is all about.

The Samuel Adams brewery of Boston, Mass., just this last year released a glass, which their brewers claim, serves beer as brewers intended. The Samuel Adams Boston Lager Pint Glass shares many traits with the flute, but it is bigger and has a much wider mouth.

"We wanted to create a glass that offers beer lovers a full sensory experience by fully showcasing Samuel Adams Boston Lager’s complex balance of malt and hop flavors.", said Jim Koch, founder of Samuel Adams.

And last, but not least, one good reason for having different specialty beer glasses, for different kinds of beers, is to help bar patrons to remember which glass is theirs. A night of drinking can sometimes muddle ones perceptions. In any case, is not a finely crafted beer worthy of its own glass?

Breweriana: Collectible Beer Steins

Beer Stein

Breweriana is the collective detritus of breweries and beer fans from the days past.  Breweriana takes many forms, but the arguably oldest form of collectable breweriana hails from Germany, where beer Steins or bier Steins have been crafted sold and handed down for generations.  Although the tradition of beer steins has largely faded from practical use, those who have been left with old hand me down beers steins may find that they have antique treasure worth up to $3,000.

Originally known in German as the "Steinkrug", the beer stein is a traditional mug for serving beer, which can be made of porcelain, silver, crystal, glass, or wood.  Some steins have an open top, but most collectable varieties have an intricately cast or carved lid with a thumb-action lever.

As a child, I remember looking up on the shelf in the den and seeing the variety of intricately crafted beer steins.  Amid hand me downs from the family past were also spoils of war from my grandfather’s campaign in Europe during World War Two.  Such history was held in those beer steins, and swept away with the intervening years so that today, I have but two of the remnants of that fine collection.

Although not seen in the pub or at parties much these day, the practical benefits of the beer stein are as useful today as they were in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Although replaced with the pint glass in most pubs, the stein typically holds at least as much beer as a pint glass.  Older steins are likely to hold around one and a half liters of beer, which, back in those days, was considered one serving of beer.  More modern sizes from Germany are likely to hold only one liter.

It was in the 14th century that beer steins first started becoming fitted with hinged lids.  The lids were indeed sanitary measures, the result of a German law that all food would need to be covered in order to prevent the spread of disease.  This law came with many other laws that popped up at this time, when Europe came back from the brink of decimation as a result of the black plague.  For instance, pigpens could no longer run up to the edge of streets, meat that was old or came from a diseased house had to be labeled accordingly, and the German Beer Purity Laws began.  It is from this stage that beer began to be homogenized on a national level:  beer could only be brewed from hops, barley, yeast, and water.

Steins remaining from the periods earlier than the 14th century tend to be made of pewter and silver, as the earthenware and wooden steins from that period were easily broken over the yawning of the years.  The pewter guilds held onto the premier production spot for steins until the ceramics crafters of Europe invented stoneware, which proved much more durable that the old clay earthenware.  Not long after, porcelain and glazes also emerged on the scene.  A lot of advances in stein technology occurred around the 1700s, of course, during the Renaissance.

The additional benefit of the thumb-action levered steins come in especially handy for keeping unwanted materials out of your beer.  Flies, stray cigarette ash, and bits of food are always a downer when you find them in your beer.  I still use my capped stein from time to times when I find myself going to a party where such detritus may find its way into my beer.

Some varieties of stein have their own terms from the German, which you may run into while searching for the beer stein that fits you: 

  • "Humpen" are steins that are made from stoneware, using the process which partially smelts the clay together, producing a harder and less porous product.
  • "Steinkrug" are earthenware steins.
  • "Glaskrug" are glass steins, very few of which survived from ancient times.  Some of these are actually crystal.
  • Another term you might come upon is "Maßkrug", pronounced ‘moss kroogh’ in English.  These are steins that are explicitly measured out for one liter.

Hunting for steins is a fun and rewarding exercise in antique shopping.  Steins can be found in nearly every antique shop, and who knows, with a little knowledge you may find a valuable treasure in your breweriana adventure.