SPRING HILL — In the 1960s an iron worker just off work chugs a can of beer, slamming the empty on a counter under his palm, crushing the colorful metal vessel is a display of machismo.
The very thought of the act makes Dave McGillivary’s facial contortions match the crumpled can, especially at the thought of it being a can of Apache beer, or perhaps 007 James Bond Beer, the empty of which today could fetch $6,000 or more.
The owner of New Hernando West Liquors and the Sunset Lounge in Spring Hill is crazy about beer cans and sports a collection of 4,000, including some of the rarest anywhere. He doesn’t have any of the 007 cans, though he’s always looking to fill a few of the open spots on the floor-to-ceiling display shelves on the walls of his Spring Hill home, where he also displays beer taps, mugs, neon signs and coasters. If it has to do with beer, McGillivary’s got it stashed among his other collections, which include classic pinball machines, juke boxes, cars — full size and models. There’s an antique barber chair in a corner of his living room, right next to the pool table, over which hangs a Budweiser advertising light.
McGillivary is a member of the Gator Traders, which is a beer collector’s group. He started collecting when he was in the service in the 1970s
“My roommate and I said let’s pick up a six pack of every different beer,” he recalled. “We put the cans all around the room until the first sergeant made us get rid of them.”
After he left the service, the collecting resumed. He joined the fledgling Beer Can Collectors of America and made sure to look for cans every place he traveled. He found them in attics, abandoned breweries and trash piles around old hunting lodges. Friends and people he met gave him old cans they found. He took free tours of breweries, taking the empties with him. He’s found valuable specimens inside ceilings, where construction workers left them after eating lunch.
“Every can has a story of how I found it,” said McGillivary.
He’s not kidding, and all anyone visiting his home has to do is point to a can to get its story.
“The old cans are steel, not aluminum,” said McGillivary. “I have aluminum cans; they are the newer ones and when I find older steel cans, I put the newer ones up for sale and replace them with the steel cans.”
McGillivary said the hobby is fascinating because the cans and their printed art are journeys through history and reflect the culture of the time. There was Three Stooges beer, Harley Davidson beer, and there was a beer in camouflaged cans from World War II that was shipped overseas to American troops.
“Not many of those came home,” said McGillivary, so they are very collectible.
Some old cans were shaped like bottles and featured a standard bottle top. The steel cans that followed required a church key style can opener to punch through the tops. At the time, the method was so new one brewery had instructions on the side of its cans showing how to use the new-fangled openers.
McGillivary said the hobby has exploded over the past few years, though finding collectible cans at good prices has gotten harder thanks to shows on television about “picking” for collectibles.
“Everybody thinks anything old is worth a fortune now,” said McGillivary.
Those interested in the hobby have a chance to see what it’s all about from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Aug. 10 at the Sunset Lounge, 5431 Spring Hill Drive, where Gator Traders, a Sarasota-based chapter of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America — as the Beer Can Collectors of America is now known — will stage a show featuring scores of cans and beer collectibles.
McGillivary said he’s slowed his can-collecting roll in recent years and is not about to spring for a $6,000 can these days, though he still actively trades and is always on the lookout for a deal. He sells a can from time to time. One fetched the $2,800 that paid for a vacation out west for he and his wife, which resulted in him finding some rare cans from that part of the country during their trip.
“Old beer cans are everywhere if you just look,” McGillivary said. There are more rusty ones than good ones, he added, but “I never stop looking for the good ones.”