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to look for when trying to date a potential war-era can, which should also have a statement on it that reads, "Withdrawn Free of Internal Revenue Tax for Exportation."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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Recent News: Beer Cans
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New take on iconic Double Diamond brew will work wonders with beer advocatesBurton Mail, November 23rd
"The launch evening in December will celebrate the history of Ind Coope and Samuel Allsopp with talks, displays of breweriana, old photographs and the true taste of Ind Coope and Samuel Allsopp with the Dual Diamond brew. The night will also bring ...Read more
Things to do this week: Nov. 23-29Cincinnati.com, November 23rd
29: Sunday After Thanksgiving Breweriana Show, 8 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Christian Moerlein Brewery, 1621 Moore St., Over-the-Rhine. Brewery advertising items galore available at this buy, sell, trade event. Plenty of nice old Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky...Read more
Beer Memorabilia on Auction Block to Benefit Boys & Girls ClubKBTX, November 20th
BRYAN - Kristen Distributing has moved into a new location, and the company is giving you the chance to own some of its memorabilia and help a local non-profit with a planned move of its own. Friday, the local beverage distributor sold off some of its...Read more
See Inside the Home of the World's Premier Treasure HunterTIME, November 10th
As the founder of New York City-based auction house Guernsey's, Ettinger specializes in collecting oddball items that traditional auctioneers might not touch with a 10-foot-pole: Wooden carousel horses, antique beer steins, dinosaur bones and worm...Read more
Breweriana is another way to appreciate beerToronto Star, November 7th
There are many ways to describe beer: Thirst-quencher. Social lubricant. You can also, according to Troy Burtch, add artistic inspiration and chronicler of Canadian history to the mix. Well, at least when it comes to the packaging. Burtch estimates he...Read more
Zionsville man has every beer can ever made, or so it seemsIndianapolis Star, October 28th
The group of 20-or-so collects “breweriana,” brewery memorabilia including cans, bottles, signs, trays, taps and more. Now all grown up, Viering says the group is finding new 50-year-olds all the time that have all these cans, and they want to get back...Read more
Beer memorabilia collectors coming to MilwaukeeMilwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 30th
The largest beer can and brewery advertising show in the world is headed to Milwaukee. The CANvention runs Wednesday through Saturday at the Wisconsin Center, 400 W. Wisconsin Ave. Why wouldn't they meet in Brew City? More than 1,500 collectors ...Read more
Meet collectors of beer memorabilia June 13 in Mesaazcentral.com, June 2nd
On Saturday, June 13, a beer-collectibles show is scheduled as part of the American Breweriana Association annual meeting. The show will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Marriott Hotel, 200 N. Centennial Way in Mesa, and will feature such items as cans, ...Read more