Magazine Feature / People

Architect finds beauty in ‘breweriana’

photo portrait

DU Architect Mark Rodgers examines cans at the CANvention in August. He has a can from every country that ever brewed and canned its own beer. PHOTO BY: Richard Chapman.

If the world’s beer can collectors formed their own country, Mark Rodgers would be secretary of state.

By day, Rodgers is the architect for the University of Denver, designing buildings and overseeing campus cohesiveness. But by evening he’s a tireless accumulator of distinctive beer cans from around the world. His present collection hovers in the 3,000-can range and is regarded as “one of the best, if not the best” of its kind, he admits.

“I have the only collection I know of that has a can from every country that ever brewed and canned its own beer,” he says. “That’s my niche. And there are about 300 people who care.”

Most of that caring crowd convened in Denver in late August for CANvention 37, the annual gathering of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America, a 4,000-member group that gets together annually to swap, shop and show off items collectively called “breweriana.”

This year, more than 650 collectors, including Rodgers, descended on the Adam’s Mark Hotel with thousands of cans, bottles, pop tops, caps, trays, crates, taps, lights, mirrors, clocks, coasters, glasses, labels, bar displays, steins and T-shirts.

“I have 400,000 items in my collection, including 15,000 beer cans,” says Dave Gausepohl, an attendee known to fellow CANventioneers as Beer Dave. “I keep it in a three-bedroom house.”

Beer Dave, a legend of breweriana collecting, started amassing cans in the fourth grade. Today he is a 42-year-old beer wholesaler from Kentucky who admits to having “no wife, no kids, no pets” to interfere with his hobby. As of CANvention 37, Dave had logged visits to 1,628 breweries in the United States.

Dave emphasizes that “love of product” is not a prerequisite for love of cans and that “an awful lot” of collectors are teetotalers.

“This is not a frat house blowout,” he insists. “We are professionals.” 

Few of the cans at CANvention 37 were full (empty cans are easier to handle) and nearly all chronicled some forgotten brewery or other with colorful names like Horlacher’s, Stegmaier’s or Golden Glow.

One commemorative can marked the 25th reunion of the Harvard Class of ’45. Another honored “one million man hours without a lost time accident,” which the unnamed Natick, Mass., company that commissioned the can decided was a record best celebrated by giving away beer.

A can of Bank’s Mild claimed its contents were “Unspoilt by Progress.” Another can contained a mixture of Bud Light and Clamato Juice, with a caution to watch out for the “shellfish and clams” within.

A can of Schaefer Light brewed in 1942 for troops fighting World War II was issued in military style khaki and black and was on sale for $300. A can of Krueger’s cream ale brewed in 1935 in Newark, N.J., was priced at $4,500.

Among the costliest cans at the CANvention was a Hornung’s Bock Beer from 1951 that had a price tag of $20,000. Rare by age and scarcity, the Hornung’s can was unusual in that it contained printed instructions on the side showing drinkers how to operate what was then a revolutionary new beer opener that today is known as the “church key.” Invented in 1933, the church key apparently still required operating instructions after 18 years of use.

Rodgers’ collection of cans is in a category termed OC/OC or One Can/One Country. It focuses on the 191 or so nations that have brewed beer in cans, but also on former nations with canning history, such as Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the USSR and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Complicating things are places with breweries that aren’t quite countries, such as Aruba (a Caribbean island that is part of the Netherlands Antilles), the Isle of Man (a British dependency but not part of the United Kingdom or European Union) and the Bailiwick of Guernsey (one of the Channel Islands).

“I love geography,” says Rodgers, who began collecting at age 11. “And as an architect I love graphics. I like the way brand graphics evolve and reflect what is style at the time.”

He also likes history, coveting a rare cone-shape can made during World War II that was shipped to British troops fighting in North Africa. “Very few survived the Sahara Desert,” Rodgers says.

Another prized can is a Watney’s Brown Ale provided to British troops involved in hydrogen bomb tests at Christmas Island in the mid-1950s.

At this year’s CANvention, Rodgers was watching for the arrival of six beer cans from Armenia sent by a Lithuanian collector.

“It’s escape. It’s fun,” says Rodgers, who by mid-convention had traded away about 50 cans, acquired another 50 and sold some 60 cans with price-tags ranging from 10 cents to $200.

“I joke that the convention is my annual fishing trip. Except that the cans I catch aren’t muddy or come from the bottom of the lake. Some are even cold, still have beer in them and are quite refreshing.”

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