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Collecting Breweriana

Appreciation for Beer Collectibles Goes Beyond Good Taste


Jax Aquarium Beer Sign

Vintage lighted motion aquarium sign advertising Jax beer

-Patrick Blazek

Quick Tips for Collecting Breweriana

- Beer memorabilia is eternally popular, with both old and new items avidly sought by collectors.

- Brand loyalty is often a driving factor with beer memorabilia collectors, but some folks just collect beer items in general.

- Among the most expensive beer collectibles are the rare bar signs and framed prints from the early 1900s. These can sell for several thousand dollars when in excellent condition. However, small items such as calling cards with beer motifs can be collected for just a few dollars apiece.

- Some of the most expensive beer memorabilia has been reproduced, but not as widely as some other types of advertising collectibles. Even so, it’s wise to buy high end items from a reputable dealer.

Personal Recollections of Beer Memorabilia

When I think back to some of the items my mother had in her antique shop long ago, one of the most interesting pieces was a lighted Jax beer sign. This animated sign looked like an aquarium and when you turned it on, fish swam through the water courtesy of a revolving piece of plastic. A light behind it would illuminate the box like a real aquarium. There was even a little mermaid ferrying a six-pack of Jax among the fake fish. It was obviously a simulation, even to a kid, but I liked it anyway.

For the longest time I've thought about this sign, but never crossed paths with one like it. Imagine my surprise when one of my About.com users contacted me with photos of the very same sign I remembered after reading about my childhood recollections!

While I favor that old aquarium light myself, any type of motion light featuring beer advertising is highly collectible now days. From tin trains with chugging wheel motion to flowing mountain streams, all those innovative signs can be valuable regardless of the beer maker's brand they feature.

Marketing Then, Collectibles Now

Most beer companies prominently displayed their logo on advertising pieces many years ago, just as they do today. The cleverer the advertising displays, the more beer the brewery would sell, or so they hoped. While many collectors of breweriana look for beer items in general, while others focus on a particular brand of beer, all beer memorabilia will find a good home in a collection eventually.

In fact, I've seen lots of different beer advertisements and the objects they rode in on over the years. It never ceases to amaze me how much advertising changes, yet it stays the same. Following this line of thought, we find that selling beer with the lure of a beautiful lady isn't a modern marketing scheme.

Themes in Beer Memorabilia

In the Value Guide to Advertising Memorabilia by B.J. Summers (Collector Books), a very risqué framed cardboard sign for Arrow Beer sports a shapely nude woman with a "Matchless Body" to go right along with the beer. This item has a very 1930s look to it and sells for several hundred dollars, according to the book.

Although you might not be able to picture a piece like this over the sofa in your own home, I'm sure it once complemented a smoky barroom quite well. There are many other framed signs that offer crossover appeal that blend nicely with a number of décor styles with vintage flair, however.

Perhaps a pair of hunting dogs framed in a light-up Budweiser sign might work in your game room. Or, how about a lovely Victorian woman with a colorful peacock selling Schell's Carbonated Mead? This one's definitely tasteful enough to hang on a living room wall, no doubt about it, but it won't come cheap. The book value is $1,350 for this wonderful example of artwork and it wouldn't be surprising to see such a nice item to sell for even more. The hunting dogs go for far less, perhaps a hundred dollars or so.

Variety in Beer Collectibles

Of course, part of the fun of collecting beer memorabilia is seeing what you'll round up next. Whether it's a $10 pair of Schlitz salt and pepper shakers or $25 wooden shoe hawking Heineken's Holland Beer, the thrill can definitely be in the chase here.

When you're out foraging around in shops or cleaning out the garage, don't forget about functional pieces adorned with advertising as well. Even tappers, the often-ornate handles seen atop tap spigots in bars, can be worth some money. A relatively new St. Pauli Girl tapper, complete with a drawing of a lovely maiden serving beer, can sell for around $15. Tappers with more elaborate tops can sell for even more, especially the older models.

You'll also want to keep an eye out for neon signs, metal serving trays and paper goods such as match holders, unused labels and calling cards. In other words, anything with a beer logo can be considered collectible, even the small stuff.

So get out there and see what you can dig up. If you're like me, you don't even have to be a beer drinker to appreciate all the unique ways this product has been advertised over the last 100 years.

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