Back about, oh, 1997, Unreal nailed the coffin on "collecting." That whole Beanie Baby bubble...yeah, deflated. Of course, if we'd known then what we know now a Red Fox Ale cone-top beer can is going for $1,000 on eBay! we might have started a real collection...a manly-man collection: breweriana.
We wouldn't have been the first local smarty-pants to get in on that trade. Henry Herbst of Wildwood ranks among the crème de la crème of the hobby.
Unreal: Is it true you're one of the most prominent beer-can collectors in the world?
Henry Herbst: I wouldn't say that. I started out collecting cans and at one time was president of the Beer Can Collectors of America. But I probably have fewer cans now than 25 years ago. I collect bottles, coasters, labels, signs and do a lot of research on the history of brewing, specifically brewing in St. Louis.
When did you crack open this hobby?
Forty years ago. I worked down at the brewery, and my dad worked there, and somebody who had found some Budweiser cans from the 1930s was giving them away. They don't look anything like Budweiser cans of today. I put one behind my bar next to a current one to show the difference, and well then you gotta have a Michelob can, a Busch can and sooner or later bottles, signs, and the next thing you know it's out of control.
Mmm, addiction. So are these cans, like, clean?
You wash 'em off. Who cares, ya know? There's guys that collect them rusty. I don't prefer to do that, but hell, they go dig 'em out of dumps! It could have been in somebody's basement, or who knows who drank from it, so you clean it up. It ain't a big deal. Actually, I've never thought of that in all these years.
I heard you consulted for the Missouri History Museum on their current exhibit on brewing in St. Louis.
What's the most interesting thing about our brewing history?
The brewers' involvement with the German Tyrolean Alps during the  World's Fair. It was right at the entrance the Alps covered about seven acres. It was the largest entertainment and dining venue at the Fair.
Tell me about the Club.
Today it's called the Brewery Collectibles Club of America. Its office is in Fenton.
Yeah. There's in excess of 4,000 in the club. They do an annual convention; this year we'll go to Denver. It's like the NRA coming to St. Louis; those guys, when they were done, they would go drink beer and talk guns. We have the perfect hobby, because we sit around and drink beer and talk about beer. There's guys in the club, there's women there's been three women presidents and there's people that don't even drink.
Do you manage to get youth involved?
I've done press speeches to Lions clubs, men's clubs, after-dinner things. A friend of mine was a history teacher in eighth grade at the local parish, and she invited me to tell these kids about Prohibition. And yeah, there's some kids in the hobby.
Aha! If only we'd had a mentor.
River Front Times Wins Again!
After a disappointing second-place finish on a sloppy track in late March, Unreal's (vicariously, anyhow) Thoroughbred, River Front Times, won a six-furlong race in the slop at Fairmount Park April 14.
Unreal, who'd cheered on RFT to his maiden win at Fairmount back on March 6, was not on hand for our pony's second score, because it was raining like hell and cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. Too damn bad: RFT went off at odds of 5-2 and returned $7.20 on a $2 wager.
Son of a bitch.
According to the Equibase Company's official chart of the race, "RIVER FRONT TIMES away somewhat slowly, was rated from inside, roused along the rail on the turn, steadily progressed under a drive and got the advantage in the waning yards."
Jonesin' Rage, trained by legendary Fairmount jockey Dave Gall, completed a $35 exacta that Unreal surely would have bet if we'd been there instead of home, drinking too much.
"He's sound, very healthy," River Front Times' owner, Lou O'Brien, tells Unreal when we call to congratulate him on the win. "His problem has always been that he's a big play-baby. He's starting to grow up a little bit. He was very green. He's showing some maturity now: knuckling down, paying attention."
In case you've been sleeping under a rock, River Front Times came into being two years ago, when Unreal, as part of our very complex investment strategy, asked O'Brien, the protagonist of a 2003 feature story by then-staff writer Mike Seely, how much he'd charge to name a horse after our source of income. He quoted us a price of $1 million but settled for $100 the fee the Jockey Club charges to process a name-change. And so a two-year-old colt named Pollys Jaybird became River Front Times.
What's next for RFT? Depending on how the horse does, O'Brien might opt to ship him to Hoosier Park, outside Indianapolis. "We've got to run him where we can make the most money," the owner explains, though he reassures Unreal that we can expect to see RFT at Fairmount "at least until this screwball meet's over."
"We've got him going in the right direction," says O'Brien. "We don't want to overwhelm him competitively. We have a plan for every horse. As their performance level increases, we move them up. We'll see how he progresses."
Somebody Buy My Crap
Item: Deer Head
Condition: 8-point, shoulder mounted, head straight
Issue: April 15
Unreal: You bag that deer yourself, Stan?
Stan: Sure. I shot it probably fifteen years ago up in Macon County.
What kind of firepower we talking about?
I use a .44 magnum carbine. It's a short-barreled rifle, good for the woods. I shot it in the heart from about 35 yards away. I always hit them in the heart. I was with my son when I shot it.
Why are you selling your deer head now? Doesn't it have sentimental memories?
No. There's no sentiment to it. I still have the memories, but the deer head has to go. We're moving to a smaller house. I have a lot of stuff I need to get rid of.
Have you had any calls?
A few. I actually have two deer mounts I'm trying to sell. No one has committed to them yet.
Afraid to pull the trigger, eh?
You could say that.
Isn't there something inherently wussy about buying a deer head from a newspaper advertisement?
I don't know about that. I think a lot of people are busy and don't have time to go hunting. They may have an office, game room or cabin that they want to decorate.
Speaking of interior design, now that technology has given us the flat-panel television and Big Mouth Billy Bass the singing fish trophy, has the deer head been rendered irrelevant as a wall mount? Don't people want something more interactive these days?
No. I think people who enjoy deer heads will always appreciate them.
From time to time Unreal trolls the St. Louis Post-Dispatch classified section's "Bargain Box." We cannot guarantee any item remains available for purchase at press time.