Henry Senyak is a retired communications and electrical contractor and lifelong resident of Cleveland. He served as past President and Board officer with the Tremont West Development Corporation, and continues his community engagement in the Tremont and Near West Side neighborhoods. He is currently Chairperson of Lincoln Heights Block Club. He’s also an avid beer can collector.
Bruce: When did you start collecting beer cans?
Henry: I started collecting when I was 10 years old. My dad and uncles would get me beer cans when we went on road trips. We’d check the dumpsters at rest areas for empty beer cans. I stopped collecting when I turned 18 and went back to collecting in1996. I bought an inventory of beer cans from a dealer in Fairlawn who lived in a small little bungalow house with his wife. She wanted him to sell his entire inventory. He owned a business called B&B Sales, one of the biggest beer can selling outfits in the country back in the 70’s and 80’s. I ran into him at the Hartville Flea Market. I started to buy his inventory in 1998 then he passed away a year later. It took me about forty-five trips with my van to go to Fairlawn and bring his inventory back to Cleveland. I’ve sold a lot of it since then on eBay in early 2000. I supplement my personal collection by buying and trading with other collectors across the country.
Bruce: How many cans were in his inventory?
Henry: Over 50,000 beer cans. I paid about $2,600. A lot of people might say, ‘you got a bunch of junk here’ which collectors might agree with but everybody has junk. If they only knew that I sold and traded some from his inventory to build my personal collection, they’d understand. My personal collection is now more than 45,000 cans and I still have about 40,000 duplicates from his inventory available to trade.
Bruce: Is your collection categorized in any way?
Henry: Not specifically categorized but I know where everything is, I’ll put it that way. There’s no way I can categorize this many cans.
Bruce: Why beer cans?
Henry: Well, back when I started there were a lot of kids in the country collecting beer cans. It was a fad. As a kid, we would trade cans at the St. Ignatius summer program. We had them in our book-bags. Our parents didn’t know. At the hobbies peak close to 30,000 people joined the Beer Can Collectors of America.
Bruce: How do you know which cans to collect?
Henry: That’s a good question. I’m willing to collect them all. There’s always value in anything to do with cans that have sports or commemorative related events on them. I read a lot of beer cans collecting manuals and current magazines. eBay has a category called Breweriana which has auctions for beer cans and bottles, and other related stuff having to do with collecting. The Breweriana Collectors of America, formerly known as the Beer Can Collectors of America, as well as any number of regional chapters that hold trade shows, are very popular for finding collectable cans.
Bruce: What makes a can collectable and valuable?
Henry: How many they made that year or how many were saved from that particular grouping. The age of the can and what’s on them. Scarcity and condition factor into value. Pedigree type cans, for example, like ones that were produced with a zip tab, or finger rippers as they called them, produced in the very early 60’s. I look for cans that are bottom opened. Some cans are flat tops which meant they had to be opened with a church key. They’re from all over the country, very pretty, and very collectable. The new fad for collectors is craft cans from newer breweries. If I can’t get a can because the brewery might be out of production, I’ll ask for labels. It actually saves money. I take them to beer can shows and trade them to other collectors. Some of the more rare cans at these shows can auction for tens of thousands of dollars each. In the past ten years, prices have gotten out of control. I don’t have any cans in my personal collection valued over $1,000 each. A lot of guys I know who are into collecting go dumping for cans at garbage dumps and old camp sites. They’re called the ‘rusty bunch’. I never really got into that.
Bruce: How would you describe your collection?
Henry: My collection is a mix of current craft can’s, a lot of older zip tabs and pull tabs from the 60’s that are very nice and about 300 flat tops. It’s the core of my collection.
Bruce: Do you think there’s any correlation between collecting beer cans and your community engagement?
Henry: One thing never led to the other. My engagement is done out of necessity. I’m trying to deal with neighborhood issues.
Bruce: Does community engagement ever grow frustrating for you?
Henry: Almost everyday it does. Community engagement volunteering takes twenty to thirty hours a month to be involved. I don’t know anyone with a full time job that would be able to do this kind of engagement or even want to commit that much time to it. A lot of newer residents in the neighborhood are making good money. They don’t seem to want to spend time on neighborhood issues. Helping the poor people and longtime residents is not a priority to them. I took care of my mother for a long time. Beer can collecting was a help. I had no issues taking care of her for fifteen years. It’s what I had to do at the time. The last two years 2016 and 2017 were especially hard. She needed almost hourly care. I had two small strokes at the same time. I was also told by doctors that I was going blind from diabetes. I get eye injections every three weeks. Collecting beer cans takes me into a different place.
Bruce: Would you ever sell your house and leave Tremont like so many other residents have been forced to do?
Henry: I was born here. I want to die here unless my health needs change. I want to remain as active as possible in the neighborhood. It gives me a good reason to stay in Tremont. It’s hard being alone after my mother died. Collecting beer cans gives me something to do, an escape to something else, a reason to stay involved in a community.
Henry is currently the Vice President of the Lake Erie Chapter of the Breweriana Collectibles Club of America (BCCA). For more information on the BCCA, visit the BCCA Webpage (https://www.bcca.com), the Club Facebook public page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1869179549984792), or search their Ebay Breweriana Category: (https://www.ebay.com/b/Breweriana-Beer-Collectibles/562/bn_1865396)
Publisher’s note: This article includes revisions for clarity and accuracy made after the original print version was published.