Paul Lukas | Collections

Paul Lukas’s Collection of Tap Handles

Cover of Book

The tap handles used to dispense draft beer in bars and restaurants serve three functions: First, they let the customers see which brands of beer are available. Second, they serve as a branding opportunity for the breweries. And of course they need to function effectively as handles.

Like anything else, tap handles have undergone a design evolution over the years. These days they tend to be long and thin, almost phallic. Back in the 1970s and ’80s, they were often made of Lucite. But my favorite period — and the focus of my small tap handle collection — is the 1950s, when many breweries favored compact, chrome-plated handles. These are typically known in breweriana circles as "ball knobs."

I'd never seen or known about ball knobs until the late 1990s, when I got hooked on eBay and began poking around on the site, learning about all sorts of artifacts I'd never been aware of. I love shiny graphics and industrial doodads, and ball knobs were an irresistible combination of the two. But they're pricy, especially given how small they are — they usually go for at least $75 apiece, and often significantly more than that — so I've kept my collection small.

Comments [9]

Ok… Call me when you have like 1,000. That would be impressive. Then you could show 20 of your favorites. Seriously… these "collections" lately are pretty lame. Apologies.

Don't make me bust out my belly button lint … word!

Joe Moran

So Joe how many make a collection? More than 1000? Instead of appreciating the graphics or design of the objects, you focus on the number of the collection. I have feeling a collection of 2000 tap handles wouldn't please you... [Editor's Note: This comment was edited as per our comments policy.]
Jonathan Strahan

These are beautiful! I really prefer them to the long ones they have at bars nowadays. Congrats on these gems!

Nice work and details. I always appreciate this kind of objects mixing advertising and touch of design/look.

If The Onion were to parody Design Observer, they could include this article verbatim. And follow it up with Pick Roynor getting himself into a frenzy over the latest Ed Ruscha exhibit or Adam Curtis Film.
Joe Piermont

Joe Moran

I'm old enough to remember these as they were being phased out. They still had them at older bars. Aside from how neat they were, what's interesting to me is how many of those beers are gone. There was a huge consolidation in the beer industry that has now been followed by an efflorescence. I wonder if some future design maven will be marveling at all those wonderful microbrew labels or other artifacts.

I never actually thought of the reasoning's behind tap handles. Your keen eye to design and its function is admired.

I Am old enough to remember these as they had been becoming eliminated. They still had them at old bars. Aside from how neat they were, what's interesting to me is how many of individual beers are gone. There is a huge consolidation within the draught beer industry which has now been then an efflorescence. I wonder if some future design deluxe is going to be marveling at all individuals wonderful microbrew labels or other artifacts.
Simon Tulley

Paul  Lukas Paul Lukas is a senior writer for ESPN.com, where he writes "Uni Watch," the sports world’s foremost (okay, only) column devoted to uniform and logo design.

Jobs | June 25