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.