The practice of selling beer by the can coincided with the end of Prohibition in 1933. Anticipating, perhaps, a change in the political climate, American Can Company had a flat-topped steel beer can ready to go, but it had to offer to install its canning line for free before a Newark, New Jersey, brewer named Krueger would agree to package its beer in cans. In fact, Krueger was so worried its customers would reject beer in cans that it didn’t launch its new product until 1935, and chose Richmond, Virginia, as its test market. Richmond was deemed far enough away from headquarters not to hurt the brewer’s reputation if the cans were crushed by the bottled competition.
Canned beer, though, was an immediate hit, prompting National Can and Continental Can to tool up that same year. National’s first customer was Northampton, which canned its Tru-Blu brands in flat-top cans. National canned beer for numerous other small brewers, too, from Red Top in Cincinnati to King’s Brewing in Brooklyn. American Can landed big national accounts like Anheuser-Busch (maker of Budweiser), Pabst, and Ballantine. Continental was famous for the cone-topped cans it produced for Schlitz.
Cone-top cans appealed to customers because they were easy to pour, and they were popular with brewers because the cans could be slotted into existing bottling lines. There were low-profile cone tops and high-profiles ones, as well as mid-profile J-spout cans, all of which were assembled from three pieces of metal. The exception to this rule was the Crowntainer, whose concave base anchored that can’s one-piece body.
Flat tops were simpler to make and cheaper to ship than cone tops—in the end, that won the day. Because flat-top cans were ubiquitous compared to cone-top cans, which had all but disappeared by the end of the 1950s, cone tops are generally more sought after by collectors.
Another subset of beer-can collecting focuses on cans made during World War II. All beer sent to the military, which was supposed to account for 15 percent of each brewer’s output, had less alcohol in it than beer brewed for domestic consumption (3.2 percent versus 4-to-7 percent). That’s one differentiator to look for when trying to date a potential war-era can, which should also have a statement on it that reads, "Withdrawn Free of Internal Revenue Tax for Exportation." By 1944, the domestic labels used for canned military-bound beer were replaced with olive-drab packaging, which makes these cans even easier to identify.
In the postwar years, all flat-top cans had to be opened manually with a church key. In 1960, Burger Brewing of Cincinnati introduced a steel can with an aluminum lid to make this task easier for consumers. But the major change in beer cans occurred in 1962, when Pittsburgh’s Iron City Brewing canned its beer in Alcoa-made zip-top cans. Over the next two years, numerous different types of zip-top cans would be introduced, some with no instructions on the can’s tops, others with sharp edges on the tab itself, and a few that left an opening in the top of the can that collectors refer to as a dogbone for its shape. Schiltz called its zip tops "pop tops." Call them what you like, but these small, sharp strips of metal littered beaches and parks until 1975, when they were replaced by stay tabs.
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21st Amendment Now Open in Former Schnaider BreweryRiverfront Times (blog), March 11th
The tables are made out of one red oak tree from the Hamilton's back yard, and there's vintage beer labels on the wall, including Schnaider beer, which used to be made in that very building. 21st Amendment is open Sunday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to ...Read more
Going Out Guide: Free and easy things to doWashington Post, March 9th
Join Ron Pattinson, brewing historian and author of “The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer,” for a beer tasting and book discussion and signing hosted by 3 Stars Brewing Company and Brewers United for Real Potables (BURP). A few of Pattinson's ...Read more
Over-the-Rhine beer festival turns 22 this yearWKRC TV Cincinnati, March 8th
societies, German food, and beer specials. Sunday also brings the return of the steins, breweriana, authors, exhibitions, and tours. The festival runs from March 7-9. This is it's 22nd year running. Join Local 12's Brad Underwood at the start of the...Read more
Winning names drawn at Better World BooksThe Elkhart Truth, March 8th
At 8:30, Hop Notes reader Keith Hiebner drew out the first name, (unfortunately for him, it wasn't his own) and the winner of the Bell's Mug and The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer by Ron Pattinson was Tim Hershberger. Five other names were drawn ...Read more
History on tap: Pretty Things releases two new beers Saturday in SomervilleBoston Herald, March 7th
The party kicks off at 4 p.m. tomorrow at The Independent in Union Square, Somerville. Pattinson, an Englishman who lives in Amsterdam, will be on hand to sell and sign copies of his new book, “The Homebrewers Guide to Vintage Beer.” The party is free, ...Read more
The Tasty Season: Bull City kicks off run of food and beer festsNews & Observer, March 6th
Food fests like Chapel Hill's TerraVITA happen in October, while Raleigh Rare and Vintage Beer Tasting was a month ago. Even outside the warm-weather heart of the season, the phenomenon never really dies down – particularly in culinary hubs like the ...Read more
John Edward KopenhaferLa Crosse Tribune, March 5th
John was a collector of all sorts of different things: small cars, pencil sharpeners, antique beer cans, and maybe other things. He worked for the City of Tomah, from 1960 until his retirement in 1986. After his retirement he spent a lot of time in his...Read more
Event: BockfestCincinnati CityBeat, March 4th
On Saturday, enjoy bock beers at the hall plus the Bloatarian Brewing League's bock home brew competition, an exhibition of historic beer steins and breweriana, live music and Prohibition Resistance tours. The German-American Citizens League presents a ...Read more