Various beer cans.
Frank E. Derby '84, courtesy of the Princetoniana Museum
The tradition of Princeton-branded cans started in the ’30s

In a typical Reunions year, alumni pour into Princeton’s campus and the souvenirs abound. There are decorative lapel pins and, of course, costumes for major Reunions, as well as custom-designed cups and cans with exuberant designs celebrating classes. The tradition of producing Princeton-branded cans started in the ’30s, when Budweiser produced cans decorated with the phrase “Pride of Nassau” that were given to members of the Class of 1912 for its 25th Reunion. In the late 1980s, cans gave way to plastic cups, which often sported images of tigers acting out Reunions themes. A tiger drives a racecar over the slogan “Clear The Track As We Go Back,” from the Class of 1975 in 1995. Another plays the banjo above the words “A Rockin’ 30th” from the Class of 1960 in 1990. Today, most classes produce their own cups.

A beer stein from 1905.
Frank E. Derby '84, courtesy of the Princetoniana Museum

A century ago, the standard drinkware for Reunions was a sturdy ceramic beer stein decorated with Princeton’s colors and the owner’s graduation year. The mugs fell out of fashion during Prohibition, when many people used flasks. After Prohibition, large-scale breweries began producing tin cans with custom labels for Reunions. At least 100 distinct cans were produced between 1937 and 1993, including both class-specific cans and others distributed across Reunions, like a 1941 can that featured a tiger in combat uniform standing on top of a globe.

The cans are now collectibles, with rare designs selling for more than $100. At the Brewery Collectibles Club of America, the archive of historical beer cans for college reunions contains 155 cans. A hundred of those were produced for Princeton.

For the last three decades, white plastic cups with orange-and-black designs have been a signature of the weekend. Today, the Alumni Council maintains an archive of cups and other drinkware in the virtual Princetoniana Museum. The site includes 85 different cups, most of them from the collection of Sev Onyshkevych ’83, who has attended all but one of the last 41 Reunions. 

Beer cup from the 10th Reunion of the class of 2008.
Frank E. Derby '84, courtesy of the Princetoniana Museum

Onyshkevych grew up in Lawrenceville and began collecting stamps and colonial-era letters as a boy. In high school, he approached a University archivist for advice on researching his finds and was sent to the “Keeper of Princetoniana,” Frederic Fox ’39. Fox ignited his passion for the University and helped him start collecting Princetoniana, beginning with 19th century letters, course catalogs, and commencement programs. Onyshkevych estimates that his collection now includes over 300 unique cups and cans, as well as Princeton-branded goods such as bicycles and cigarettes, which were sold worldwide before the University secured licensing rights to its name. He is passionate about his whole collection, but he says that he has a special affinity for Reunions drinkware: “You can’t go to Princeton and not bleed orange. Or love tigers.”