Breweriana

Beer related objects have become collectibles.

Found a 50-year old Budweiser can in your grandfather's garage? Don't throw it out - it might be worth $300 or more on auction. Got a 1943 Schlitz bottle, with the label intact? If it has a 'Buy War Bonds' stamp you might be looking at a $500 'antique'. Even tin bottle tops can fetch $20 or more, especially if they're unbent.

Beer collectibles

A cross between antique shopping and collectibles, breweriana has become the latest rage. Bottle tops, cans, labels and other components of beer memorabilia are selling for top dollar on Internet sites and at live auction houses.

Steins, trays, openers, ads - you name it. Anything and everything that has been used to contain or advertise beer is now considered a potential work of art. And rightly so, since many of them are.

As with any collectible, they're worth what someone is willing to pay. And these days, if you have several, you might have enough to finance a college education.

Maybe you've done a bit of travelling and have picked up some of those spare keg handles from your trek around Europe. Contemporary ones will bring a few dollars, if they're unique. If it turns out they've been sitting in the back room for a few decades, you could be looking at a self-financed vacation.

Coasters go anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars, depending on age and provenance. 'Provenance' is a term used in the art market to indicate the history of a work or antique. The better recorded its history, the more authentic, the higher the value all other things being equal.

If you lucked upon an 18th century mug from Philadelphia, you'd obviously have a genuine antique on your hands. But even much newer items can garner a pretty penny. A Stein from Nazi-era Bavaria brought in over $1000 at one recent auction.

Of course, to go along with all this activity, there are dozens of websites and even an 'official' publication - American Breweriana Journal. No doubt other countries have their own 'official' magazines. But Americans are particularly fond of producing a niche publication to satisfy every conceivable taste.

Blogs, forums and affiliate marketing websites have gotten into the act. The wires are simply buzzing with talk about a vintage Anheuser-Bush poster or the newest find in bottle tops.

Indeed, it's hard not to agree that all the excitement is justified. Even an ordinary tin tray you could purchase for a dollar at the local discount store, goes for $10-$20 when it's emblazoned with an artistic design for Stegmaier or Yuengling. The latter is advertised as 'America's Oldest Brewery' and features a scene of puppies from the company's 1907 calendar.

As with any collectibles or antique market, the bottom could drop out at any time. The art market sees regular, wide swings in price as artists come into and go out of fashion.

But considering how popular beer has been for centuries, and how antiques tend to increase in value with age, you might just find a good investment by cleaning out your grandfather's garage after all.