Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Alcoholic archaeology

Last week I was visiting my mom, and she asked me to fish something out of her attic. While I was up there, I spotted an ancient carton of beer, way out near the edge of the attic where the roof meets the soffit. I'd seen it there before, but this time something finally made me crawl out on my belly and grab the sucker. I ended up filthy but it was worth it.

The box turned out to be a pre-pull-tab, pre-plastic-ring six pack of Stroh's. It was left with three empty cans in it. Some Googling revealed that this can design dates to the late 1950s, so it must have been left there by the carpenter who built the roof - the house was built the same year man first flew in space (that's 1961 for you civilians.) That means it sat there unmolested for 52 years. Because it was so far from the attic entry, it was probably left there before the plywood was even put on the roof.

The box and cans are in remarkable shape for their age. True, they have been out of the weather, but the attic is un-insulated, so they've seen 52 yearly temperature and humidity cycles. The attic is subzero in the dead of winter, and 120 degrees in the summer. After wiping the dust off, the box looks brand new except for the fact that it's been ripped open. And the cans have only the tiniest spots of corrosion. 

The cans are steel and heavy as hell. They've got a big welded seam running up the side. and they have no pop-top or pull tab - they had to be opened using a church key. I can picture the carpenter whipping out a big keyring with the church key on it, popping open a cold one, and draining it, thinking about how he's going to go to the Painesville Speedway on Friday night.  

That blue printing on the lid is a tax stamp from the Great State of Ohio. Here's a back view of the can and a bottom view of the box. "Brewed and packed by the Stroh Brewery Co., Detroit 26, Michigan." Keep America Beautiful! I am not sure we did, especially not Detroit.

In the center of the box bottom is the logo of Gaylord Boxes. Wikipedia informs me that there is currently a Gaylord Container, but that company was named after the generic term "gaylord" for a bulk cardboard box, which in turn was named after the original Gaylord Box Company that made this Stroh's box. 

Stroh's is still made, but it's just a label of Pabst now. The Stroh family sold out in 2000 after 149 years in the brewery business. I used to like those "Alex the Dog" commercials where the guy had trained his dog to fetch him Stroh's Beer. 

The ironic thing is, as a kid I collected beer cans, a very popular proletarian hobby. My collection started out as a big pyramid in my bedroom, but Mom got sick of looking at them and she made me stash them in the attic.  But these cans are more valuable than anything that was in my collection, and they were right there in the attic all along! The collection went to the dump decades ago, except for one very special can I've kept all these years... 

Yes, it's a Billy Beer can. It is almost miraculous that this can hasn't been dented. My dad --- rest his soul --- drank the beer out of it in 1977. He pronounced it sub-par, as did the rest of the beer-drinking public.  

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