St. Omer —
Outside the tiny city of St. Omer sits an inconspicuous home with a barn behind it, filled to the brim with one of the world’s largest beer can collections.
With brand names starting from ABC, and ending in Zodies, can collector Mike Farrell’s website, http://www.thebeercanguide.com, boasts more than 20,000 cans.
The collection itself is well on its way to 30,000, not to mention the one and a half miles of shelving used to store it.
Farrell said he became interested in beer cans as a kid when the hobby reached its peak in popularity during the 1980s.
Farrell fondly recalled collecting beer cans off the street, cleaning the cans, then trading them like baseball cards with other boys.
The same boys from the '80s, Farrell said, are the men who are collecting beer cans today.
As a Midwestern hobby, West Coast beer cans are among the rarest and most valuable. Indiana has some rare cans itself, notably some from Progress Indianapolis Brewery Company.
The most valuable cans are the ones with opening instructions. When beer first started being canned (1935, Krueger’s Finest) instead of bottled, the cans had no tabs. Luckily, punch can openers had been around since 1855, and (functional) rotating openers since 1925, but people still needed the extra help to figure out how to safely drink from the can.
Some cans say “Canned with Science!” in an attempt to market canned beer as a futuristic product. Indeed, canned beer was a surprisingly complicated scientific undertaking.
The first cans were made with steel. If held too long, the beer would absorb the taste of the steel, or the can would rust because of the liquid it contained. Such inconveniences required inside liners to be developed. There was also an ongoing effort to make opening the can easier, and to create cans without a seam (The cans we are familiar with today are the product of molds for a seamless design).
Despite challenges finding companies to undertake these scientific endeavors, the results were overwhelmingly successful.
Additionally, there have been many evolutions of the beer can.
The pictures and art on beer cans used to be very elaborate, according to Farrell and his massive collection.
While some of that artistry remains for special occasions, eye-catching art used to be the primary means of advertising. Television has replaced the need for artistic cans.
Another trend that has developed, is that the major American beer companies have all been outsourced, according to Farrell.
Except for local breweries, major companies such as Budweiser, Busch beer, and Pabst Blue Ribbon are manufactured in other countries.
“Beer cans follow the history of America,” said Farrell. Just by looking at a can, he was able to tell if one was made during wartime, what technology had been developed, popular artists of the day, and even trends in advertising.
Farrell has considered opening a museum or possibly charging for full use of his website, but feels he is not ready to charge people to view the unique collection.
However, he has had fellow can collectors visit his barn, which is climate-controlled and shaded so the cans do not deteriorate from the sun or humidity. His visitors have always been impressed, said Farrell.
His collection, which focuses on American brands, compares to the world’s largest foreign beer can collection located in Pennsylvania.
Farrell has no intention on stopping his collection anytime soon. New variations of beer cans come out every year, and Farrell also collects prototypes. He has been collecting for five years, and has been working on the website for around one year.
Contact: Tess Rowing 812-663-3111 x7004