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Major in Beer

Caveat Collector: Duncan and Betty Perry's breweriana conundrum 

by | May 1, 2022

Duncan and Betty Perry. photo/Tom Major

Of all the demons that torment the souls of beer drinkers, the greedly little imp telling you to pocket the beer mat after you pay your tab is not the worst. Those disposable coasters are small, flat, and fit in the shoebox under your bed. But then another grasping, sticky-fingered succubus whispers about the pint glass or, even better, that limited-edition, hand-blown Teku with hops entwining the stem. We’re not talking about theft here — you’ll buy it, of course. We’re speaking of the insatiable desire to possess.  

Before you succumb to these satanic urges, consider Duncan and Betty Perry. “It’s kind of our life, in a way,” said Betty, standing in their beer-themed two-bedroom condo. “We have all this wonderful stuff.” 

A custom-built shelf displays their prized glassware, including pints from communist-era East German breweries and hand-painted 19th century glasses. Steins and mugs line the sills of windows between the kitchen and dining room. Brass tap shields, miniature brewhouse replicas, and even toy beer-delivery trucks are displayed on every other shelf and table. And every wall (even in the laundry room) is covered with enameled brewery signs. 

“They’re fun to look at,” Betty told me. “We’d like to look at more of them, but we’d need to start putting them on the ceiling.”  

A storage locker holds the rest of their collection, including hundreds of drinking vessels, thousands of beer mats, cases of unused labels, embossed bottles, and scores more enameled brewery signs.

  

The passion to collect all this breweriana was sparked while Duncan was working as a researcher for Radio Free Europe (RFE) in Munich. A European History professor by training, Duncan went to Germany in 1990 to document the democratization of Soviet Bloc countries. On his first day on the job, he went into the RFE canteen for breakfast, where his German colleagues were enjoying liters of Weissbier with their bacon and eggs. His admiration for German beer culture grew from that moment onward, and four years later, when he was laid off from RFE due to budget cuts, he moved to the Czech Republic to continue his work for a private foundation. When he and Betty married, the collection began in earnest. 

As the couple scoured antique stores and flea markets across Europe, they acquired signs, glassware, and other beer paraphernalia from France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, England, Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia, Germany (East, West, pre-war and reunified), the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Czechoslovakia. You could recap the history of modern Europe with this collection were it to be displayed in such a way.  

And therein lies the rub: there’s too much of this stuff. The Perrys are searching for someone to care for the collection with the same love they brought to assembling it, but so far, they’re having far less success. “We want to get rid of it,” said Duncan, “but not in the sense of trying to unload it. We want it to find a home.”  

Ideally, the Perrys would like a museum to take the collection, but they can’t seem to find an appropriate recipient. There are two large beer museums in the U.S.A.: one in Potosi, Wisconsin, and another in Pittsburgh. Neither seems interested in taking the collection, even as a donation. The Perrys have pitched the idea of a beer museum in Maine, but so far no one else has seen the viability of such an institution.   

“Look!” Duncan exclaimed, gesturing expansively as he described his vision of the museum’s taproom. “There’s a long Lucite bar, and under the Lucite are all these beer mats! How could anybody pass that up?” 

Although the Perrys would prefer to keep the whole collection together, they have sold a few pieces to collectors. For example, a New Zealander and a Newfoundlander each purchased items from their respective homelands.  The Perrys have spoken to some brewery owners about items that may be regionally or culturally relevant to them, but most want to decorate with their own logos and images. 

And so the search continues. The demon that once impelled the Perrys to acquire has abandoned them to whisper in other ears. Perhaps he will perch on your shoulder today, stoking your desire for one more t-shirt, one more trucker’s cap, one more koozie, one more taster glass. Think twice, because there’s no guarantee a future Perry Museum of Breweriana will accept your collection when you’ve finished assembling it.  

 

If you know of a good home for several thousand beer-related artifacts, contact the Perrys through Tom Major at majorinbeer@gmail.com. 

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