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Will Anderson — Oral History

Will Anderson – A Pioneer and Role Model for Breweriana Collectors
James Starkman & Lawrence Handy

Willis “Will” Anderson was born in Yonkers, and grew up and graduated from high school in Ardsley, a small town in Westchester County, New York. In “From Beer to Eternity” his 1987 follow-up to “
Beer U.S.A.” Will related that he had always collected something, proving the philosophy that collectors are born, not made. You either have the collecting “bug” or you don’t. He recalls his first collection as being Liberty head coins, pulling them from his father’s pockets as a young boy. After graduating to baseball cards and programs, his teen years led him to rock & roll and record collecting, a pursuit that he never really abandoned. Having accumulated a collection of 5-6,000 45rpm records, he took the next natural step and briefly hosted a three hour Rock & Roll / Rhythm & Blues radio program on WINE-FM out of Danbury, Connecticut. Following high school he enrolled at Cornell University. While at Cornell as a senior in 1961, following a fraternity party where a friend left behind a stack of empty Ballantine cans, Will and some friends became fascinated by the number and variety of beers that were available and he and his roommate Robert Myers began to collect beer cans. With the beer can “bug” firmly established Bob and Will would take long weekend excursions from Ithaca to distant towns and cities in pursuit of more, and exotic brands.

Eventually, Will, a true pioneer, would branch into collecting other types of brewery advertising beginning with embossed bottles, then trays and would coin the term “breweriana” to describe his pursuit. As the hobby of collecting brewery memorabilia began to spread through the northeastern states, many collectors were surprised to learn that other people also collected beer related items. By 1969, with the self-publication of his first book about collecting breweriana – “
Beers Breweries & Breweriana” Will proudly claimed 200 trays, 700 embossed bottles, 2,000 cans, plus numerous signs, taps and etc. displayed in what he termed his “Olde Breweriana Room”. Ever the visionary, Will and a small group of collectors met to form the Eastern Coast Breweriana Association (ECBA) in June 1970, the first of several clubs to organize in quick succession. This small club initially held informal trade sessions at the homes of members. As the membership grew it was decided to have an annual convention. ECBA’s first convention was held in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1973. Will was instrumental in the adoption of the ECBA motto: “Through Breweriana the History of the Brewing Industry will be Preserved”. His collecting passion eventually led him to declare “My collecting enthusiasm... has been the desire to collect as much information as possible about the wonderful folklore and history of American beer and beer’s quite significant contribution to our culture and fabric”.

With the 1973 publication of what is regarded as his master work, “The Beer Book”, which received critical acclaim, and national distribution, Will Anderson was on his way to influencing a new generation of collectors of brewery memorabilia and history. In it, he reminisced about the formerly local nature of the brewing industry, and the dwindling number of local and regional brewers, forced out either by Prohibition, or the advertising onslaught of national “big business” beer factories. He declared the turn-of-the-century highly detailed and colorful chromolithograph poster to be the epitome of advertising art, while also embracing the “lowly beer can” as future nostalgic works of art. Although Will eventually joined other breweriana clubs his heart remained with ECBA where he served as the first Treasurer, as Editor, later as President, was a frequent early trade session host, and several times convention Chairman. In addition he also was honored with the third Hall-of-Foam Award for his service to the hobby as well as the Golden Pen Award for newsletter contribution plus his authorship of numerous books about brewery history and breweriana. Will’s reputation grew and he became a spokesman and ambassador for the hobby. This led to numerous interviews for newspapers, radio and appearances on the “Today Show”, “What’s My Line?” and Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”.

As an author, Will has been a giant in the breweriana hobby and a true promoter of “Americana” as shown by his diverse interests. Although probably best known for his knowledge of breweriana, Will was also an expert on baseball, early Rock-and-Roll (especially doo-wop) and roadside attractions. His varied interests can be shown by a sample of the books he wrote.

Anderson’s Turn of the Century Brewery Directory - 1968
Beers, Breweries & Breweriana - 1969
The Beer Book - 1973
The Breweries of Brooklyn – 1976
The Beer Poster Book – 1977
Beer U.S.A - 1986
From Beer to Eternity - 1987
Beer, New England – 1988
New England Roadside Delights - 1989
Mid Atlantic Roadside Delights - 1991
Was Baseball Really Invented in Maine? – 1992
Good Old Maine – 1993
More Good Old Maine – 1995
The Great State of Maine Beer Book – 1996
Where Have You Gone Starlight Café? – 1998
Lost Diners and Roadside Restaurants –

Will was a true champion of small, local businesses. One time, even going as far to suggest that ECBA should eschew national chain hotels in favor of holding the annual convention at a mom & pop motel instead. He was intrigued by numerous events in his life and his wide assortment of interests often led to additional reading and research. Will Anderson truly enjoyed a lifetime of learning. In 2008, as a tribute to his later published books on culture, history and brewing from the State of Maine, Will was given an award for historical preservation. His efforts were cited as follows:

“When historians come to write the history of twentieth century Maine, they will owe Will Anderson of Bath a special debt of gratitude. For the past decade and a half, Anderson has researched, written and published a series of remarkable books which document our recent popular culture… Each extensively illustrated and appealingly designed volume explores its topic in a manner which easily captures the reader’s interest, while at the same time recording in detail a significant aspect of everyday experiences in a Maine now part of the past.”

Unfortunately, in the years prior to his death, severe health issues impaired his ability to be as active as he would have liked to have been and prevented the completion of his final book which was to be titled ”
New York Beer”. This did not prevent him, however, from attending the recent ECBA conventions in Utica, NY and his last in New Castle, Delaware. Sadly, our good friend and mentor Will Anderson passed away in his adopted state of Maine on March 7. 2015. He left a legacy of collecting as a means of preserving the history of an important, and for many, a very personally significant industry.

“Will Anderson was one of the founding members of the ECBA. He helped to define our mission as collectors: collecting will preserve the history of the American breweries. Will, like many of the early collectors, valued the history of the breweries and spent hours researching and visiting small breweries. He encouraged others to do the same. Will marketed breweriana collecting to everyone he met. He recruited collectors wherever and whenever he could. He felt that collecting beer related items helped save the history of the vanishing breweries. He also wrote and published numerous books regarding the history of brewing in the United States. His best-selling title; The Beer Book, was published just as beer can collecting was taking off, and inspired a new generation of collectors. Will saw the ECBA as an “inclusive” organization - a club in which beer cans were as important as trays or signs. Buying, selling and trading were all accepted methods of acquiring pieces for your collection. Above all, Will was a friend who many of us will miss. Thank you Will, for giving us the benefit of your passion and labor.”
— Bernie Wallace

“Sorry to hear of this loss. He was quite the pioneer in the hobby. He was ahead of his time in many aspects of the hobby and beer appreciation in general. I have a few of his pieces in my collection as well as almost all of his books.”
— Beer Dave Gauspohl

“It was Will’s The Beer Book that got me interested in breweriana in the first place, and Beer USA is one of the best road trip books ever written.  I met Will a couple of times over the years and consider myself fortunate in that regard. Rest in peace, knowing that you started a movement that we all cherish.”
— Sam Komlenic

“Will told me many years ago, “collect brewery history”. Breweriana is all well and good, but to truly preserve the story of historic American breweries is to preserve the details of their creation, their success and failure, and the brewers who made the product we all enjoy. He never hesitated to offer his opinion about the direction of ECBA, nor relay constructive criticism. He was proud of the founding of the organization, and what ECBA has accomplished.
— Larry Handy


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