Reflections on the occupation of collecting

In an ongoing attempt to develop a (hopefully expanding) understanding of childhood occupations, I offer this self-reflective entry. In it I can find the dynamics of interpersonal interaction, the rule-making and gamesmanship that hopefully leads to participatory democratic thought and action, and of course meaning that transcends time. All interesting, when you consider it was just a childhood collection.


Young children enjoy collecting things. Bugs. Baseball cards. Comic books. Rocks. Lincoln pennies. My brother and I collected bottle caps.

I am thinking that Gary, one of my earliest school friends, was the first one to have a bottle cap collection. His Dad worked for the government (we weren't allowed to know what he did - and to this day I still don't know) and he went to odd and exotic places around the world. Their living room was decorated in a Japanese motif - and Gary's Dad brought back bottle caps from Japanese beer bottles. That got us all intrigued.

As ten year old kids we would comb the streets, parking lots, teenage Friday night hangouts, and anywhere else that might provide us with a yield of new and different bottle caps that no one else had.

We called these locations "spots," as in 'I found the most awesome "spot". These "spots" were highly guarded secrets and we would spy on each other to find out where the other person's "spots" were. Deception was frequently used - once Brian and Dave told me that their new "spot" was far far away, and they would disappear from the neighborhood for hours, presumably on their bikes on a trip to their "spot." Turns out that their "spot" was at the deli around the corner that used to dump their broken beer shipments in back of the store.

The bottle cap collections persisted, and the competition for 'biggest' collection was infamous. There were many controversies as well - for example - many states taxed beer products differently, and the breweries would print the name of the state on the side of the cap. If the top of the cap looked the same, but there was a different state name printed on the side of the cap, should that count as a different kind of cap?? This is the stuff of long and heated discussions that went on for years.

We wrote letters to the breweries and they were usually very willing to send samples of their caps. We also used to go to a local German deli owner who imported many unique and rare beers and buy him a beer for his lunch each day - with the contingency that he would deliver us the cap from the beer. We would search people's attics and basements - hoping to find some long forgotten case of beer. The unique finds were legendary: the ancient Blatz beer and cap that I found hidden at a Girl Scout Camp, the cone top caps that Dave found at an antique dealer, The old Reingold and Genesee caps that we found in abandoned buildings on the waterfront.

On January 15, 1978 my brother and I merged our collections together, squashing all competition and creating the largest collection of all our friends. These were the conditions (I still have the original contract):

1. each will have an equal say in every aspect dealing with the caps.

2. trade dealing with single, original, one-of-a-kind caps must be approved by both of us, however, either may trade doubles at will.

3. both of us must share expenses equally.

4. differences must be settled by a neutral party.

5. amendments may be advanced with both of our approval.

Today, I have the caps stored in a box neatly lined with silica to prevent moisture and condensation. At the peak of the collection we had over 1500 different bottle caps, which was the largest collection that was recorded by the East Coast Breweriania Association at that time. Not a bad feat for a couple of kids.

It is such a silly thing, really. But it was important to me while I was growing up. And if you want to know about me, you kind of have to know about that bottle cap collection.


Cayzle said…
Chris, great post! You inspired me to blog about it on my own site:

Thanks for bringing back those memories.
Anonymous said…
Great read. I'm sure you have some gems since it's a childhood collection Would you happen to have any pictures of the favorite bottle caps?

Check out my bottle cap collection at Bottle Cap-O-Rama ::
Tom O'Leary said…
There is a real magic in childhood which allows us to get lost in hunting for treasure. What a great treasure you found! I'm so glad that you saved and conserved the bounty that you found over the years in those spots (and especially the memories of those magical years!)

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