Beer can mania
RN&R Editor Deidre Pike and I walk into the Regency Ballroom on the second floor of the Sands Regency Hotel-Casino and stare. There are beer cans. So many beer cans. Old ones, new ones. Big ones, small ones. Men who are mostly middle-aged—and a few women—meander through the beer can aisles. Some are jovial-looking; some looked dazed; some have the fervor of collection mania on their faces. A guy wearing a cap—a cap bearing a protruding stuffed turkey—greets us as soon as we enter. “ ‘Turkey’ Lardinois,” his nametag says. Turns out he’s the director of this beer can shindig, the annual “CANvention” of the Beer Can Collectors of America, which has been held at the Sands for the last 11 years. He is also, we soon find out, a local physician specializing in diabetes; he’s involved in the Nevada Diabetes Association for Children and Adults and he helps host camps for kids with diabetes. With his other hat on—his conspicuous turkey hat—Lardinois specializes in super-size beer cans. A collection of about 6,000 cans adorns—or overruns—his house. Lardinois’ wife, who sits next to him at his beer can booth, seems to be taking the festivities in stride. “Is he required to take you to the opera after this?” I ask her. “Hawaii,” she replies.
How did you get into beer can collecting?
When I was a medical student in Washington, D.C., there was a bar, the Brick Skeller. It was like a little hometown bar. A friend took me there once and I became fascinated by their 600 different beer cans. It was fun in that respect. I got started in 1973. Then I learned in 1976 that there was an organization called the Beer Can Collectors of America.
What are your duties as organizer of the convention?
You name it. We have to get advertising out to everybody. People usually pre-register, so we have to make sure that everybody gets the room they want. One thing about beer can collecting is that [the collectors] like to spend money. They like to gamble. And of course we have to set up the tables, get a business license. I had no idea of the magnitude.
What’s your favorite beer?
My favorite beer in America is—I hate to say it—Michelob. I’m more into German or Canadian beer. I fly to Germany just to get cans. I specialize in big cans. Everyone has his own specialty. I have about 2,000 big cans. I really have a space issue. I told my wife she has to move out—I need the upstairs. When I met her in 1975, I told her, “If you don’t like beer cans, sorry. This is part of the agreement.” She has to put up with this. But she appreciates it. It’s a fabulous hobby. I have friends all over the world. I’ve been to St. Petersburg, Prague, New Zealand. [Fellow collectors] treat you like family. They say, “Let’s sit down and have a beer, dinner.”
Beer brings people together?
Oh yeah. We never talk shop. But it’s been a little discouraging because attendance [at the convention] is going down. It’s getting harder to get young people interested.
I don’t know. I think part of it is because it’s a pretty expensive hobby. Part of it is price. Cans go for thousands of dollars. But part of it is lifestyle. I don’t think there’s as much hobby-driven-ness in people [as in the past].
How old are these cans?
Most of them that have that value are probably from the 1930s, 1940s. A lot of [breweries at that time] were trying to get people out of the bottle and into the can. A lot of these cans were made for local grocery stores. One was made for Ralph’s grocery store and that [can] is probably worth $2,000 to $3,000.
Is it a status thing?
Oh, I think a lot of it is. I think it’s gotten a little bit out of hand. I’m not looking at it like, “Sweetheart, when I die, sell this collection, and that’s your retirement.”
What kind of people collect cans?
If you think about it, a big majority are in the Midwest. That’s where big breweries were. The better the beer, the less value the can. But with bad beers, there are so many [cans], you trip over them. … We’re striving to keep our image up, looking for new bodies. This is our worst attendance ever. We’re not sure if we’re going to have the show [in Reno] next year.
Why do you specialize in the big cans?
I just like them. I lived in Germany for three years [where many of the large cans are from].
Is there any one beer can out there that you’re trying to get your hands on?
Many, many cans. But we call it the pecking call. There are about eight people above me in the pecking call. And people forget how much time [it takes to collect cans]. I mean, I spend a lot of time.