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Retired trooper keeps tabs on cans

December 02, 1997

Retired trooper keeps tabs on cans

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - If John Ridge wants to sing the children's ditty "Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall," he'll need a lot of breath to sing his way through the 10,000 beer cans stacked up in his basement.

Ridge, 49, of Molly Pitcher Highway, a retired Pennsylvania state trooper, has been collecting beer cans and "breweriana" since 1972, the year he and a buddy drove to Las Vegas and gathered beer cans on the way for a mutual friend who collected them.

"I thought I'd see how many I could collect. I never stopped," he said.

There's a canyon of beer cans in Ridge's cellar, stacked neatly in boxes.

On one side are 4,000 of his "traders" - the cans he takes to collector shows to trade or sell. In the middle are 4,000 boxes of his "keepers," the pride of his collection. Next to them are 2,000 empty soda cans, his latest venture.

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In between and all around are hundreds of cardboard beer advertising coasters and advertisements dating from the 1930s. He has thousands of sports teams' schedule cards put out by beer companies. There are clocks along the ceiling beams and signs - lighted and neon - boxes of tap knobs, even an old chalk sculpture advertising Iron City beer, Ridge's favorite.

"I love Iron City because they really support their teams," he said. His favorite can, not even his most valuable, is a 1974 Iron City with that year's Pitt football team schedule on the back.

"This is the last can in this collection I'd want to lose," he said.

It's the message on the back, and in some cases its antiquity, that makes a beer can worthy.

Ridge has learned such things in 25 years. He knows what to look for.

"I don't have a great collection, but I have a very good collection. A great collection would be 100 of the very best cans worth between $500 and $1,000 each."

Interest in beer can collecting is waning, Ridge said.

"It peaked in 1970. The Beer Can Collectors of America had 15,000 members, now it's down to 5,000. The younger guys aren't getting into it. I don't know why."

The Krueger brewery first sold beer in cans in 1935. Ridge has some of the early models. Some of the first are called crowns because of their shape and had caps that were opened with bottle openers. Flat tops were punched open with can openers. They survived until 1962, when pull tabs came on the scene, Ridge said.

"The value is in the older stuff. There's not much worth collecting made after 1976," he said.

One new series did catch Ridge's eye. The Coors brewery just brought out a series of four cans depicting facets of John Wayne's film career. Ridge bought all four.

"I like John Wayne. I have 110 of his movies," he said.

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