Beer Can Aficionados Talk About Their Fascination with Collecting
A lot of beer can collectors don't even drink beer.
All images by the author
This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
CANathon is an annual event for people who love beer cans. And yes, those people exist. The convention lands in a different Australian town each year, bringing can connoisseurs from around the world to showcase their breweriana (beer-related paraphernalia) over four days. And collectors only bring small samples of their collections, which can number in the thousands. Serious collectors even modify their homes with barns or pimped garages to accommodate their insane stashes. And many of the collectors don’t even drink beer.
This year’s event was held in the northern Victorian town of Echuca and we went along to ask people “why?” As in, why are you all collecting beer cans?
VICE: So who are you and how many cans do you have?
Adam Murphy: Well I’ve been president of the Victorian division for 29 years. I’ve got over 8,000 cans and I just love cans!
But do you like cans or do you just like beer?
Nah, just the look. My wife collects cans too. She’s got about 12,000. We have a big shed down in the back, under the house where we store everything. I’ve got a man cave and I’m building another one in the next month. The new room is costing me about $14,000 [$10,000 USD].
Can you describe a night in your man cave? Do you guzzle cans?
Nah, at $50 [$37 USD] a slab I don’t tip them out. Look, I'll show you some photos...
So what do you do with them?
I put them on a shelf. There are some photos in my pocket that I can show you. Here’s the renovated bedroom downstairs. I got lights and signs—It’s nice. I had room under the house so it was just a matter of spending a little bit of time on it.
What's with all the cutouts?
They’re my security guards. Virtually the whole bottom of the house is breweriana—beer cans from all around Australia. The cut-outs protect them.
Gaylene and David Burtt
VICE: Hey guys, when did you start collecting?
Gaylene: We joint-collect—we started on our honeymoon. We got our first set of cans then. I mainly collect Coke stuff. There’s a big Coke club as well.
But why didn’t you collect beer cans? Is it a boy’s club?
It’s simply because he was already collecting beer. I had to collect a can-product that wasn’t beer. If somebody wants to swap a Coke can for a beer can that’s fine. We have a joint collection.
What other items do you collect?
I’ve got 3,500 frogs.
Why frogs ?
I don’t know. I had one, then two. And then one day, I had 3,500. It kind of just snowballed. Then I ran out of room for frogs then I started collecting glomesh purses and Cupi dolls and coffee mugs with brands on them.
Why are you both collecting cans?
It’s an activity we can do together.
When do you think is enough?
Never—you just keep going. I collected stuff before I met my my husband, then we collected for 38 years together. It’s something that we can do together. We’ll never stop.
Has anyone ever suggested that collecting could be a gateway to hoarding?
No. We’ve got our house set up like a museum. We’ve altered it to fit our collections. It’s tidy.
How much money have you spent to adjust your home to suit your collection?
We were supposed to go around the world on a cruise but we instead built another garage to fit all this stuff instead. The garage was $70,000 [$52,000 USD] and we only built the garage for the collection.
What would happen if your house burnt down and you lost everything? What would you do?
Cry and start again.
VICE: Tell me about your favorite can. Is it here?
Ron: My favorites are at home. I don’t bring the good stuff.
Can you tell me about the first can you ever collected?
I was 17 years old. It was a Carlton Draught can and I opened it on the bottom and that’s how it all started. I found this club in 1980 and they started the club in 1979. So I’ve been in it for 38 years.
But why are you doing this?
Well, it’s a bit too late to stop and question it, isn’t it?
Well, interestingly this place seems filled with 50- to 60 year-olds. Why aren’t there any young people here?
Yeah, it’s a worry. As I say, I’ve been in the club for 38 years and it’s a worry that we’ve got no young people coming in. You probably like going to the pub and having your Jim Beams or your Jack Daniels. Whereas when I grew up, I used to go to the pub and have a beer. It’s hard to promote it. We send out letters to try and promote the club. In the old days, people used to go to the supermarket or shopping centers and set up a table. I was a member of the American can club for a long time but now I’m just here.
VICE: Lindsay, why are you doing this?
Lindsay: I’m more interested in the container, not the contents. You can see historically the change in a lot of the beer cans. You can see how things evolve. A good example was the XXXX can in Brisbane. They had pictures of the brewery there with smoke coming out of the chimney. But then environmentalism became popular and XXXX took the smoke off. Little things like that. It documents how things evolve over the years.
How many cans do you have?
I’ve got about 6,000, which is a fairly small collection compared to some of these.
What do you do with the beer that you don’t want?
I empty out the beer. I’ve got a few good friends that will help me drink them, but I mostly just throw the beer out.
What would you say to people who would think you’re a hoarder?
I think any hobby can get out of control. You do get selective. Some cans there may not be any minor differences—you may just change the wording of something. I don’t worry about that. If you collect the minor differences then it’s getting out of control.
VICE: Colin, why are you doing this? How did you start collecting cans?
Colin: My neighbor and I were close, and many years ago, we used to go away on vacation together. We’d sample the different beers and we started putting them up on the little shelf in our house and then, one day my friend said, “Did you know there’s a bunch of guys who collect beer cans?” I said, “Pull the other leg, won’t you! Who’d do that?” He said, “Well, we are!” And then my friend joined and not long after he said, “You better come along to a meeting and have a look at these guys. They’re out of control.” And sure enough, they are.
Are you out of control?
Yes, I am! I’ve shifted my collection from a bar area to my daughter’s bedroom.
You put cans in your daughter's bedroom?
Yep, after she moved out and got married. There’s no way she can get back in the house.
What does your wife think of this?
Well, she’s glad I’m out of the house and in the shed. She collects teddy bears. She’d have something like 60 or so teddy bears in the house. My son, he’s 45 and he collects model cars. He’s still at home and won’t leave!
What do you love most about the collection process?
Drinking the beers.
Steve and Janet Chadwick
VICE: Why do you love cans?
Janet: I don’t. I’m over cans. Steve is the can drinker. He doesn’t even collect. At the moment, I’m in the process of going through boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes of cans, and I’ve got so many doubles of everything. I told him, “If you bring any more doubles home, I’ll crush all of them.”
Steve, what would you do if your wife crushed all your cans?
She wouldn’t—I’d also get an alibi first.
Do you only collect cans?
Janet: We’ve got over 600 mirrors. We’ve got neon lights. We’ve got a coke collection, a unicycle collection, and a coffin selection; we’ve got everything.
VICE: Hey Paul, how many cans do you have?
Paul: I’ve been collecting for 30 year and I’ve got about 4,000 cans. That’s about average. Some collectors have up to about 10,000. Four thousand I would think is a fairly average collection. I keep the collection in the shed in the back garden. It’s not allowed in the house.
What does your partner think of your cans?
As long as they stay in the shed, she’s happy.
Can you tell me about these cans with the ladies on them?
They’re from Scotland. They’ve been bringing out different ladies over a number of years. Over the last probably five or six years of the distribution, they’ve sort of objected to the ladies on cans so they don’t do it any longer.
What do you think of the ladies? Do you miss them?
I think they’re quite appealing, yes. Scotland is a fairly conservative country while we’re pretty broad-minded. They’re also the same brand but they’re smaller cans.
Why do you collect cans? Why are you doing this?
I think you need collective genes in you. It’s a hard one to nail. I’ve thought about that one myself: Why do I collect? The answer is I get enjoyment out of it.
What about it brings you joy?
It’s as simple as looking at them. It’s the challenge of finding them, too. Like this one. When I learned that there were 19 in a set it was a challenge to run around and find the missing ones.
VICE: Hey John, if your house was burning down and you could chose between saving your wife or your...
John: I’d take my wife. She’d be mad if I didn’t.
Have you had to modify your house to fit your collection?
We just put in a lift. It was $40,000 [$30,000 USD].
What would you say to someone who wants to start a set?
Well, you’re welcome to the club because we’re all dying. There are less members each year. Some of the young ones have never taken it up. But my grandson is 11 and he’s interested in them.
Is he interested in drinking cans of beer?
No, no. Just the tops. He helps me with the tops much to his father’s disgust. I’m going to leave them all to him.
Why the top collecting John? Why all of this?
If you want to party and/or collect cans with The Australian Beer Can Collectors Association you can get in touch via their website.
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