ephemera: When did your passion for beer coaster collecting begin?
Barone: I started collecting in the mid-70s while still in college. Micro-Breweries were unknown at the time, so we would travel around to the local bars and restaurants and pick up souvenirs from everywhere we went. From there, I met a few local breweriana collectors who introduced me to the hobby and to other collectors. It has grown from there.
I collect coasters from breweries located in the USA, including those coasters issued outside of the USA for American Breweries. Good examples are Coors, Miller, and Anheuser-Busch. I have over 15,000 different coasters in my collection.
ephemera: Your collection includes some very rare coasters, such as the White Rose Beer coaster from Dallas Brewing 1933-1939 [shown above]. What collecting challenges or obstacles do you encounter and how do you overcome them?
Barone: Keeping up with all the recently issued coasters. There are probably 10 to 15 new coasters issued every week by breweries both domestically and internationally. There are a core group of more than 100 collectors worldwide that will send scans for me to publish on my Coaster Mania website. Weekly lists are emailed to over 100 collectors and the Website averages around 150 hits per day. Once this list is in the hands of collectors, they write or visit the breweries and get as many coasters as they can to send out. This is also the way the new collectors are on an equal ground with the experienced collectors--they can find the new ones and trade for anything they are missing. We have collectors in every state and in most countries finding coasters for us.
Beer Coasters are a great investment, if you buy with an investment in mind. Once the top four or five collectors pay a very high price for a coaster, the prices comes down to what I would consider the street price. After that, anything purchased below this point is a safe investment. Also, you can get free or very inexpensive coasters from the Micro Breweries by just writing to them. If the brewery closes soon after, the coaster will become very valuable to collectors. Recently, a few micro-coasters sold on eBay for $50 each, even though they were less than 10-years-old. A small local brewery with a short life-span will drive the prices very high.
Even to this day, with so many collectors using the Coaster Mania Website, new discoveries of older coasters are being found. Just recently three different pre-pro coasters from Virginia Brewing Co. [1890-1918] were found and sold on eBay for close to $1,000 each. eBay has certainly made a difference for those who can not travel to breweriana shows, but along with the good comes the bad...sometimes inflated prices. I have one of the largest collections of USA coasters in the world and its very difficult to find an older coaster I need. When I do, the price is usually very high.
I must get three emails a week from people--who traveled throughout this country and overseas for years with boxes of coasters--asking for an evaluation. Most are worth pennies each... especially the common international coasters. There is no pricing guide available, but I have published a relative guide that places a range for some coasters. There are situations where two very similar looking coasters can be priced very differently based on a trade mark or printer's code. It all comes down to experience and knowing the market. Additionally, a rare coaster can turn to a semi-common one if a sleeve [50-100 coasters] were found. And this happens a few times a year. Finally, a down side of eBay is the specialized collectors who will pay almost anything for a coaster, which will artificially inflate the price. A good example is the Three Stooges coaster--when first released sold for $40 on eBay. This is a very common coaster that you can get for free from writing to the brewery, but a Three Stooges collector could pay an inflated price, because they might not be aware of how common it is.
ephemera: You've illustrated a great point about cross-over collectibles and the need to understand the market your in. Talk about your favorite coasters...
I also enjoy the very colorful and artistic coasters. One thing that inspires me is going to flea markets and finding those very rare coasters that the seller is not aware of its value. I once found a coaster from the New England Brewing Company at a flea market, along with a dozen very rare coasters, and the seller practically gave them to me just to get them off his hands.
ephemera: What’s your advice to achieving success as beer coaster collector?
Barone: Acquire as many trading partners as possible and send coasters to as many people and from a wide number of locations worldwide. It pays off in the end with new friends and new coasters. Honesty is also key; this is a very small, close-knit group of collectors, and if someone is cheated, or if an eBay seller commits fraud, intentionally or not, word gets around very fast.
Additionally, learn from the experienced collector, ask questions, and if you are selling on eBay, know what you are selling. I have seen very rare coasters go for 10 percent of their value because they were either in the wrong eBay category or the seller left off a key piece of information that turned a $5 coaster into a $100 coaster. Also, if you think its a rare coaster put a reserve price on it, you can always sell it cheaper if you made a mistake.
ephemera: That's a great point, George. I know I've made a few mistakes like that. What resources do you recommend?
Barone: The Internet is the best source of information: from sites dedicated to coaster collecting, finding addresses for breweries, historical information, and the brewery websites.
There are also Breweriana Clubs in almost every state and country that you can join and participate in their trade shows.
Additionally, there are a couple of national breweriana clubs such as the American Breweriana Association and the National Association of Breweriana Advertising that are excellent resources for collecting and historical information. Addresses and website information can be found on the Coaster Mania website.
Coasters should be stored in plastic sleeves or poly bags to avoid the oils from your fingers, fading from the sunlight, and moisture. Fading can change a coaster's color and devalue it tremendously. The Coaster Mania Website has a section on storage and displaying your coaster, along with repairing and cleaning.
ephemera: Beer coasters are a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing your collection and expertise with us, George.
If you're interested in more information about beer coasters, check out these books:
- The Beer Coasters Collection
- The U.S. beer coaster guide
Search Abebooks for the books listed in this interview.