Over the last ten years, one of the biggest concerns in the antique business has been whether or not a new generation of collectors would ever come to the surface. With the baby boomers having filled their homes with nostalgia from their childhood in the 80’s and 90’s, antique markets have taken a downturn. Collecting things like Star Wars toys, comic books, video games, and vintage clothing became the new norm. The internet and eBay have taken their toll, leaving many antique stores to close, many pickers to find a new line of work, and the number of vendors at flea markets dwindling. Like many things in Buffalo during these times, it just added to the depression of our economic outlook.
Having suffered through this up and down period, meeting someone like Mike Eckborg was a breath of fresh air. Mike, a 34 year old tattoo artist, is an enigma in our business. Mike is part of America’s largest living generation, “The Millennials,” a group known for not openly wanting the same things their parents did.
A young and avid collector of all things Buffalo beverage, his passion and collection is admirable. Mike is a young collector in kind of an “Old Guys” market. I met Mike a year ago when he purchased an early Simon Pure Brewery porcelain sign, and although I had seen him at antique markets for years before, it was through that sale that I became formally introduced.
Mike has been collecting Buffalo breweriana and soda pop advertising since he was a kid, an obsession that excites him to talk about. In speaking with him about his collection, his enthusiasm was contagious. Mike is not in it for the money, although he’s invested a considerable amount of it into acquiring some rare and amazing pieces of Buffalo history.
At one point in Buffalo, there were 38 breweries serving hundreds of saloons and hotels. Among them were familiar names like the Roos Brewing Company (Iroquois), William Simon (Simon Pure), Becks, Phoenix, and Lang Breweries. There were also dozens of smaller breweries with names like Broadway, Germania, Buffalo Cooperative, and Lakeview.
Sadly, in some cases, the buildings these breweries were housed in are gone, but the remnants of their legacy live on in the trays, wooden boxes, signage, and bottles that people stored away. Eventually this ephemera found its way into estate sales, flea markets, and antique shops, where guys like Mike and many other breweriana collectors find their treasures to preserve. Interestingly enough, Western New York is the home of the Simon Pure Chapter of the Brewery Collectors Club of America, an organization dedicated to collecting and preserving all things beer related. The chapter integrates Buffalo, Rochester and western Pennsylvania, and shares their goals with other chapters around the United States and internationally. When the chapters get together at occasional shows, breweriana can be traded or sold – and more importantly – shared and documented for its history.
So in thinking about all the new breweries and craft brew pubs finding roots in and around Buffalo now, I wondered about all those new neon signs, t-shirts, trays, cans, and coasters. Will they be the breweriana of tomorrow? Will we someday be passionately hunting for a Flying Bison tip tray, a Resurgence Brewery tap handle, or a Pressure Drop Brewery sign? Mike is not taking any chances, and has made it a regular habit of buying as much new brewery stuff he can find, just to store away for the future.
After meeting Mike, I feel that there is hope for the antiques market with the millennial generation. Like Mike, I was interested in old stuff early on, but through curiosity. I used my search for those things to learn about a lot of other things. In Mike’s case, his other interest is in Buffalo soda pop advertising, “Queen-O” in particular. Queen-O was produced by the East Sides most popular soft drink maker Sol Lenzer. Owning one of the early advertising signs from Queen-O is one of Mike’s “holy grail” pieces he hopes to someday find. The idea of one existing out there, waiting to be discovered, is what gets him up early on weekends to scour markets locally. If you have one by chance, look him up, and make his day.
In talking with Mike, I firmly believe that like most things in life, an appreciation of antiques will eventually take hold in other millennials, just as it did with the baby boomer generation. Eventually, nostalgia for more than toys from their childhood will hopefully emerge, and the things they are enjoying during Buffalo’s current halcyon days will hopefully swing the pendulum back into an interest in what will be antiques.
Whether you collect vinyl records, brass instruments, travel posters, or concert t-shirts, it is in our collections that we share a quality or hint about the person we are that others do not see on the surface. One of the best parts of being involved in antiques is the people I meet, the conversations we share, and the joy that is expressed when asked about what they collect. It is not just for the money, it is not because they don’t have anything better to do, it is simply for the love. These folks love the preservation of history, the opportunity to share their knowledge and to pass it on to others, making us all richer for having them around.
Mike Eckborg (Hone & Forge Tattoo, 5524 Main Street) firstname.lastname@example.org
The Simon Pure Chapter of Brewery Collectors Club of America www.simonpure.org