Brew the years: Beer fans 'CANvention' opens in New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In middle school, Dan Scoglietti rode his bike through Chicago, picking up old beer cans with his twin brother, Ed. It was an odd hobby for a pre-teen in the 1970s that turned into a lifetime pursuit.

"We'd go to junior high and trade beer cans," says Scoglietti, now 57. "Today, I do it all the time."

On Thursday, the twin brothers welcomed hundreds of other beer can collectors in Albuquerque to "CANvention," an annual gathering sponsored by the Fenton, Missouri-based Brewery Collectibles Club of America. For 49 years, the group, and its predecessor the Beer Can Collectors of America, have organized conventions celebrating vintage beer cans from brewers around the world.

Collectors came to trade, buy and sell beer cans dating as far back as the post-Prohibition era. They examined special-edition cans dedicated to NFL teams selling for only $5 to those from the 1930s going for up to $3,000.

Some collectors traded beer cans connected to the thousands of craft brewers who used complicated art to adorn their cans. Others featured Chicano images while some focused on the regional landscapes of their brewers.

Dave Gausepohl, a board member of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America, said some of the mostly empty vessels of beer are selling for hundreds, while collectors are opting to swap their six-packs with fellow fans of foam.

"I got into this when I was in the fourth grade," said Gausepohl, 54, who lives in Florence, Kentucky. "And I never looked back."

The CANvention started after collector Denver Wright, Jr. placed an ad in a St. Louis newspaper in 1969 looking for like-minded compatriots. He and a group of newfound friends met in April 1970 and put together their first gathering a few months later.

Rich La Susa, 67, of Gold Canyon, Arizona, said he has attended all but one of the gatherings. "It's more about friendships than cans," La Susa said. "It sounds trite. Cans are an avenue at collecting friends."

But sometimes the rush comes from finding a gem, La Susa said.

That's what happened to Scott Field, a land surveyor in Beaverton, Oregon. A few years ago, he was near a lake when he saw a can partially buried in the ground. He dug it out and found a 1930s-era beer can from the Manhattan Brewing Company of Chicago — a company some believe had links to mobster Al Capone.

"He was probably in jail by the time this was made," Field said as he held the rusted can. "A lot of history here."

After the swapping ends, some participants said they were going to a beer tasting to investigate the Albuquerque craft brewing scene. La Susa said he will be looking for unique cans.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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