Breweriana collectors gather for whirlwind show

By Jack Kelly

“It was a fabulous four days of fun, fellowship, exchange of ideas, trading, buying and selling – and even a few glasses of that good golden brew.”

That was the comment from a member of the National Association of Breweriana Advertising (NABA) following the national convention. The annual gathering took place at the Raddison Hotel in Kalamazoo, Mich., July 25-29.

Breweriana Collectors Converge in Kalamazoo

Brewery Association convention room photo

Collectors from across the United States converged on Kalamazoo, Mich. for the NABA 2017 convention.

Name tags reflected travelers from as far away as Hawaii. Plus, all four corners of the continental United States are reflective.

In all, a total of 200 people registered for the event. Features of the gathering included seminars, an auction, room-hopping for buying and selling. Visits to local members’ collections, and a tour of the nationally-known craft brewer Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo were big draws. The one-day free admission public sale garnered much attention.

A unique event called The Brewmaster’s Dinner took place. It featured different brews paired with each course of the meal much like wine-tasting dinners. When dessert was served, many folks chuckled when yet another beer was matched —with chocolate cake!

Scheduled events were enjoyed by many, but having time to talk with fellow collectors of breweriana was top of mind for many attendees. 

Advertising Signs One Interest of Many

Though the name of the group might indicate to outsiders that interests are spotlighted on

Beer glass foam scrapers

A selection of collectable beer glass foam scrapers was displayed at the Kalamazoo event by Ray Barber of Erie, Pa.
(All photos by Jack Kelly)

advertising signs only, members say that’s just part of the collector circle.

“There are no set spots,” said one NABA member, adding, “You can specialize in coasters, labels, cans, bottle openers, advertising signs, matches, bottle caps, glasses and much more.” He added “We are really walking historians.”

While t-shirts and other items with favorite brewery or beer names were worn by many folks at the event, a Hamm’s Beer collector showed his favorite, the Hamm’s Beer Bear advertising mascot, in a special way – with a permanent five-inch tattoo on his upper arm!

Steve Miner of Winnebago, Minn., had the ink art done “about 12 years ago on a dare,” adding, “it shows the Hamm’s Bear twisting his finger in a circle ordering another round of beer.”

The tattoo has faded somewhat over the years but the collector said he has in mind another “Bear idea” that might cover the old spot.

Room Sales Set The Tone

Mark Zeppenfelt of Wescosville, Pa., drove 10 hours to attend the show and display about 200 items for sale in his hotel room – and he also set up for the Saturday public show. The dealer said he was a “second generation collector, starting at age 10 with beer cans.” Items he offered were priced from $75 to $5,000. The $5,000 piece was a 1930s 15-inch-diameter light-up reverse on glass advertising sign for Manayunk Beer, a Pennsylvania brewery.

Looking over his selection, Zeppenfelt paused to add, “The hobby has been good to me.”

Bill Norton of Augusta, Mich., echoed other members comments. Explainin his start in collecting came with beer cans in the 1970s. Now it includes all forms of breweriana advertising.

In some ways Norton’s experience reflects the old adage of “art imitates life” both professionally and personally – with the accent on beer.

Professional Brewery Ties Attract Some Attendees

Steve Miner and Hamm's Beer Bear tattoo

A fellow collectors checks out Steve Miner’s five-inch tattoo of the Hamm’s Beer Bear mascot.

He’s not only a long-time advertising collector, but his professional career includes starting work at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo in January of this year with the title of Project and Engineering Manager.

Meanwhile Norton’s collecting tastes were quenched in 2002 with the purchase of an early 1900s 18 by 24 inch tin advertising sign with the name Norton’s Beer!

His personal favorite beer at Bells – after working hours? Without a pause he answered “Two Hearted Ale.”

Eighty seven-year-old Herb Haydock of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., who founded NABA “along with two other guys” in 1972, was in attendance at the Kalamazoo event. In a group discussion, the NABA members fielded questions that included these points:

What are current favorites for breweriana collecting?

• Pre-pro (pre-prohibition before 1920) items are always of interest to collectors and probably the most sought after by many in any form of advertising – or anything from the 1800s and up.

— It’s pretty simple really, the sought-after items relate to condition, condition and condition.

• First class higher grade items sell well. In fact, prices are up from a few years ago.

— Good quality rare items with good graphics and fine condition equal an expensive price.

• Items from small early breweries that may have been in existence for a short period of time.

What are slow sellers or of only minor interest?

— Common beer steins seem to be of only narrow interest.

• Advertising signs or other items with no graphics.

— Items with marginal/poor condition.

Current NABA membership nearly 750, with many joining after starting to collect beer cans in the 1970s.

Club Strives to Attract New Members

Like various other collector groups, the NABA membership has seen somewhat slow growth. Talk of

Rock Island Brewing Co. tip tray

A tiny, colorful tip tray from Rock Island, Ill. It was scooped up quickly at the NABA public sale in July.

bringing younger people into the fold is a frequent subject. Twenty-two-year member James Kaiser of the small town of Washington, Mich., near Detroit, said, “We’re all getting older. Some younger people are coming in and are very energetic. I think over time, it’ll all work itself out.”

Twenty-year member Jeff Scholz originally from West Bend, Wis., but now of Houston, Texas, reflected on membership, stating, “This hobby is in the same position of most other collector hobbies like guns, stamps and general antiques. Not many young people are into collecting. With the advent of the Internet, many once rare items are now more accessible.”

He then asked and answered a question: “What’s a collector to do? Collect what you like.”

The groups’ next convention is set for July 31, 2018 in Madison, Wis. Until that time members say they’ll stay in contact with each other and attend other gatherings.

For more information on all club activity or to join, contact www.nababrew.com.

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