In his professional life, Tom Waterman, 53, is a fourth-generation member of the storied Davenport law firm of Lane & Waterman, and a justice of the Iowa Supreme Court.
In his personal life, he is a husband, father, fitness buff and collector of beer cans.
At least he used to be a collector.
From the time he began hunting for discarded containers in the woods when he was a kid, to the time in 2003 when he drove a can-filled Ryder truck home from Pennsylvania, having bought a share of another man’s collection, he has amassed some 25,000 cans.
Although he has thousands from the United States, more than half — 15,000 – are from about 60 foreign countries.
That makes his the second-largest collection of foreign cans in the country, the largest belonging to the Pennsylvania collector, Waterman said.
Wife Marie prefers that the collection not seep into the main level of their Pleasant Valley home, so all the cans are displayed in the home’s lower level, perfectly arranged on wood and Masonite shelves specifically for them.
The display begins on either wall as you descend the stairs.
It continues down both sides of a short hallway, then — oh, my! – down both sides of a l-o-n-g hallway, then down both sides of another short hallway. Open the door to the bar/game room, and the display reaches a crescendo, lining the walls, tucking into the rafters, filling the shelves behind the bar.
But wait, that’s not all.
Doors on either side of the room open to storage areas with more cans.
“Overwhelming” doesn’t quite describe it.
The cans are organized by country and size and arranged alphabetically.
About 1,000 of foreign cans — Germany and Great Britain to Japan and Australia — are the larger, “party-size” containers.
Cans by American locale include Old Chicago, Wisconsin Club, Texas Pride and Denver Beer.
There are Christmas cans, animal cans (dogs, horses, bison, polar bears, geese), holiday cans (mostly Christmas), sports cans (Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals), cans with pull tabs, screw tops and cone tops, cans featuring American Indians (Chief Oshkosh and Chippewa Pride), generic black and white “Beer” cans and yes, cans of Billy Beer, promoted by the younger brother of then-President Jimmy Carter.
There are even some risqué pinup girl cans.
Most of the cans date from the 1960s through the 1990s.
Beer-can collecting was a popular hobby, particularly among males, when Waterman started. He joined the Beer Can Collectors of America and in 1975 he and his father, the late Bob Waterman Sr., traveled to a “canvention” in Des Moines, the station wagon full of cans to trade.
By 1976, when the Quad-City Times published its first story on the collection, the then-Bettendorf High School senior was up to 2,000, with another 4,000 for trading. He traded by mail, and when his parents traveled, they would buy “one of each” at supermarkets. Index cards helped him keep track of everything.
His interest waned soon after that, though, and didn’t pick up again in a big way until the 1990s when he acquired a 1,000-can collection in Dubuque. Buying the collection in Pennsylvania was his last big purchase.
Now Waterman — and particularly his wife — would sincerely love to find a nonprofit group or museum to donate them to. He doesn’t even drink beer anymore.
“I’ve run out of room,” Waterman said. “I’ve run out of interest.”
If You Go
What: “Suds!” an exhibit on the brewing history of the Quad-City and German brewing traditions, featuring a display of 209 German cans from the collection of Tom Waterman
Where: German American Heritage Center, 712 W. 2nd St., Davenport
When: Ongoing through Oct. 28.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
How much: Admission is $5 for adults; $4 for seniors 60 years and older: $3 for children 5-17 years old. Programs are free with admission unless noted.
For more information: 563-322-8844; gahc.org
Next beer-related program: Aug. 18, a film titled “The State of Scott,” describing how the Davenport area had its own ideas about state and federal prohibition laws.