I've written before about my beer-can-collecting phase in the early 1980s, when my siblings and I scoured the roadsides of suburban Tampa for old and interesting cans. I collected cans for years before selling my collection in 1984, just before I went to college.
At the same time that I collected beer cans, my younger brother collected soda cans. Unlike me, he kept his collection, which still occupies 20 cardboard beverage flats in a closet at our mom's house. (That's about 480 cans.) Many are from the late '70s and early '80s, and some are older than that.
I looked through his cans yesterday, and was struck by the incredible variety. There are store brands, regional brands and national brands. Grape soda, orange soda, cream soda, cola, lemon-lime sodas, diet sodas and juices. There are cans of every make and model. Some have pop-tops, some have pull tabs, and some required a can opener. Some suffered from weeks, months or years in a ditch or forest before we found them; others we bought new and drank.
I'm pretty sure I drank that Santiba ginger ale in the photo above on one of our family trips to Maryland.
I got to wondering what ever happened to all these brands. It turns out that many of them are still around. RC is still extant; so is Ritz. White Rock is based in New York and still churns out flavored sodas of all varieties. Mello Yello apparently still exists as a brand owned by Coca Cola, which launched it in the late '70s.
Suburban, which was a Baltimore outfit, seems to be kaput.
While it's encouraging that many of the brands have managed to hang on, the diversity in today's soft drink industry is an illusion, as these researchers found. Three firms -- Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper/Snapple -- control 89 percent of the American soft drink market, under many different constellations of brand names. RC, for example, is owned by Dr. Pepper.
I can't speak for my brother, but cans appealed to me because of the artwork. I liked the typography and the colors. I liked the graphic design. When we were collecting, I didn't really think about the larger possibilities or career potential in design -- I just knew what I liked.
I still notice design on cans. Just the other day I was admiring the current version of the Publix cola can. Pretty jazzy!