Question: In collecting beer cans, are there any guidelines in terms of how to open the cans so as to empty the contents but still preserve the can in good condition for collecting purposes?--A.Z.
Answer: Collectors say for display purposes, beer cans should be punctured on the bottom--not on top. That way the holes are covered when the can is placed on exhibition at, say, a collectors show.
Usually, a "church key" or an ice pick will do the job. Just be careful that the can (or your hands) isn't damaged in the process.
Aside from holes in the bottom of the can, to qualify for "excellent" condition a beer can should be free of rust, dents, smudges, scratches and fading. Above all, the label and any accompanying illustrations should be crisply defined.
In a recent conversation with a collector who has put together a formidable beer-can collection over the years, he said he simply looked for local beer brands wherever he traveled. It wasn't long, he said, before he had built up a colorful collection of many hundreds of cans from a number of countries.
Another trick of the trade, he said, is to keep a sharp eye for fad-generated brands that can quickly disappear from the market. For example, during the height of the James Bond craze a few decades ago, a beer brand aptly called "007" briefly appeared. Apparently it wasn't a big hit with beer drinkers, but the few collectors who scooped up the colorful cans found themselves with a sought-after item.
Q: I'm having difficulty identifying the workmanship on several canes in my cane collection. How are cane craftsmen of past eras connected with their creations?--S.E.
A: It's not unusual for creators of walking canes not to put their names or identifying initials on their products. This practice, of course, has made it difficult for collectors to identify who produced canes in their collections--although sometimes a particular carver's workmanship can be identified.
However, there are ways to date canes. A study of the history of walking canes tells collectors, for example, that in the mid-19th Century cane handles were set at right angles to the shaft; some early 19th-Century canes had an eyelet in the handle so that a cord could be inserted, allowing the cane to be hung on the wrist.
Gadget canes--such as those in which the handle conceals a sword or a gun--are immensely popular and valuable among collectors. Such canes, hollowed out to camouflage hundreds of ingenious devices, have been around for hundreds of years. They have their own following, just as canes with ornate ivory or wooden handles do, and are sought by collectors throughout the world.
Q: What are the origins of the Hubley manufacturing company in terms of the collectible toys the firm made?--E.R.
A: John Hubley founded the firm a few years before the turn of the 20th Century in Lancaster, Pa., where he produced an assortment of cast-iron toys. His products have become highly collectible and ranged from mechanical banks to circus wagons.
During World War II, however, cast-iron toys were becoming too expensive to make, and war needs of the nation marked the end of the cast-iron toy era for Hubley and many other domestic toy producers.
Today, the Hubley products are sought after by collectors who will bid up the firm's cast-iron cars, trucks and machinery to more than $100. It's not unheard of for a rare Hubley item to sell in the four-figure range.
Q: I am 11 years old and would like a book to read on collecting anything. I have not decided what I want to collect yet.--W.S.
A: Shari Lewis' book "Things Kids Collect" is unfortunately out of print, but the 95-page paperback would have been fun reading for you. Perhaps you or your parents can find it in a used-books store. It is written in simple language with plenty of good tips on how to get started as a collector of everything from buttons and badges to magic and shells.
Here's a little advice from the book:
"Whether your love is cats or monsters, you'll like being surrounded by your treasures. Keep as much of your collection as you can out on display . . . .
"If you put your goodies into boxes, label them on the outside so you won't have to open the box to find out what's in it . . . .
"Try to keep related things together as much as possible. For instance, if you collect tiny little animals of all kinds, you can either keep the monkeys in one spot and the bears in another--or you can separate all of the china figures from the glass ones . . . .
"Store paper items in file folders. They'll last longer and stay flat."