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ONTARIO: 9,500 beer cans and still collecting strong (6 photos)

Rockwood man has made collecting Canadian beer cans his passion

Ralph Nunnaro is asked what his wife thinks of his hobby.

"She loves it!" says Nunnaro, before chuckling and quickly correcting himself. "Well, I wouldn't say 'loves it.' She tolerates it."

That hobby is collecting beer cans. Canadian beer cans to be precise.

The Rockwood man owns just over 9,500 beer cans, most of them lining the walls of his large finished basement, with extras, doubles and overflow in a storage room and in the garage.

They date back to some of the earliest cans ever made, early 1940s steel cans called "cone tops," to one-off special editions made for festivals and private events.

"What else would I do?" the retired industrial plastics sales rep says. "This keeps me busy almost every day."

He's not alone. He belongs to a 60-strong Ontario chapter of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America, which holds an annual "Canvention" that attracts thousands of people looking to trade, buy and sell beer cans.

"We have people come from as far away as Australia and South Africa," Nunnaro says.

He started collecting cans in 1986 after seeing a friend use beer cans to decorate the wall behind his basement bar.

"I thought 'I could do that behind my bar,' and it just kept snowballing," he says.

Of course collecting beer cans isn't quite as easy as it was when he started.

"Twenty years ago there might have been 10 new cans produced a year. In the last three to five years, with all the craft breweries opening up, it's just exploded," he says.

One craft brewer, Hamilton's Collective Arts, has already produced over 300 different cans, he says.

Last year alone Nunnaro catalogued 2,583 new beer cans produced in Canada "and there might have been more."

He says more than that will be produced by the end of this year.

"Nobody has all the cans and nobody ever will," Nunnaro says, although that hasn't stopped him and others from mailing one another empty beer cans across the country all the time to add to one another's collections.

He makes weekly trips to the LCBO to check for new ones and he's known by name at Wellington Brewery, one of the many craft brewers who produce new one-off cans all the time.

Logistics, and price, prevent him from getting one of every can.

"It's a great hobby," the affable Nunnaro says, sitting in his basement surrounded by row upon row of beer cans sitting on home-made shelves.

"I thought about collecting stamps, but you just lick those, put them in a book then stick them in a drawer. It's not the same thing," he says.

He goes on the computer daily searching new cans, has weekly get togethers with other collectors in the Greater Toronto Area and attends conventions whenever possible.

Yes, the beer does get downed, although it's first drained through two drilled holes in the bottom of the can to preserve its sanctity. They then get thoroughly cleaned before being organized by region and alphabetically by brewer on his walls.

Mostly collectors trade cans between one another. Occasionally one gets sold.

And it's not always age that dictates a can's lofty status among collectors.

Nunnaro paid $13.95 for a six pack of Budweiser Platinum a few years ago in an LCBO because he hadn't seen them come in white aluminum before.

Turns out they were in the liquor store by accident, part of a batch made for a corporate event. Now word has spread through the collecting world and those six (he gave the other five to collector friends) are now part of the Holy Grail of the beer collectibles world.

One of those he gave to a friend sold for $800 US a couple of  years ago.

"I hope to sell it for $1,800," he says of the accidental find. "I'll probably get it too."



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Tony Saxon

About the Author: Tony Saxon

Tony Saxon has had a rich and varied 30 year career as a journalist, an award winning correspondent, columnist, reporter, feature writer and photographer.
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