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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


Every single metal bottle cap in the world has 21 teeth, says Sergei Tenenbaum. He should know. Ever since they were 12 years old Tenenbaum and his friend Yury Groshev have collected the aluminum lids. Today their stockpile has reached 10,000.

"It all began in 1977 when a boy from the school next door taught us a game called rasshibyets, or knock-out," said Tenenbaum. "You put a bottle cap on its head and throw a stone at it to try and make it turn over. Whoever makes it flip wins the cap."

Soon Tenenbaum and Groshev were experts at the game and their cap collection mushroomed. "We started trading the caps and looking along the pavements and in gutters for ones we didn't have," remembers Groshev.

To begin with, Tenenbaum hated the taste of beer. "He would buy a bottle of, say, Baltika, pour the beer down the toilet and keep the cap," said Groshev.

In 1991 Tenenbaum moved to Israel. "I thought I was never coming back, so I packed up all my belongings, including my own bottle cap collection, and set off for the airport," he said.

Customs officials, however, refused to let him take the caps out of the country. "They said they were items of cultural and historical worth, and I had to get them valued at the Ministry of Culture," said Tenenbaum.

The valuation committee took photographs of every one of the thousand bottle caps. "In the end, they decided I could take them with me," said Tenenbaum. "After all, it's just a load of rubbish most people wouldn't look twice at."

But after a two-year stint in Israel, Tenenbaum returned to Moscow, bringing his prized collection with him. He and Groshev set up on the internet, so that they could get information from other cap collectors around the world.

"The man with the world's biggest collection is an Italian called Roberto d'Agostino," said Tenenbaum. "We trade with him. We gave him a rare Soviet lid, and he gave us one dating from 1935, when Mussolini was in power. It is our most valuable item."

Tenenbaum clambers up onto a stool to bring down the Italian cap. The entire collection is displayed in plastic display sheets, like shower curtains, which cover every centimeter of wall space in his sitting room. They have caps from almost every country in the world.

The Italian one is red and yellow, with the word W?hrer written in black. Tenenbaum says he doesn't know what it means, but a translator at the German Embassy said it was most likely a misspelling of the word F?hrer, the title used for Adolf Hitler.

Two years ago, the two collectors got into the Russian Guinness book of records. As well as owning the biggest collection in Russia, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, they are within the top 10 in the world.

"We have caps from Laos, Madagascar, Syria, Morocco, New Zealand, Chile, Egypt," reels off Groshev. "Almost the only one missing is North Korea. Maybe Kim Il-sung doesn't let them drink beer."