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to look for when trying to date a potential war-era can, which should also have a statement on it that reads, "Withdrawn Free of Internal Revenue Tax for Exportation."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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A Ghost in the Family
The New Yorker, August 2nd

Mike has thousands of pedals, fenders, and pieces of trim that fit old muscle cars; boxes full of Fisher-Price toys; vintage beer cans bought at swap meets; and most of the things Barry has tried to get rid of over the years, including all the visitor...Read more

Steve Cahalan: New owner takes over at Viking Inn
La Crosse Tribune, August 1st

Some other merchandise includes musical instruments, gas station and beer memorabilia, stoneware, vintage advertising, comic books, and Star Wars collectibles. Store hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The store's telephone number is ...Read more

Sacramento's brewing legacy buried but not forgotten
Sacramento Bee, August 1st

Carroll, who has a master's degree in public history and collects beer memorabilia, was looking for a thesis topic when he began to wonder about Sacramento's largely forgotten beer history. The book is out of print but is still available for $14.95 at...Read more

Essay: Pabst Returns to Milkwaukee, Where It Belongs
Valley News, July 28th

In its time away, PBR had the unexpected good fortune to fill a drinking niche — the vintage beer — that could just as easily belong to Hamm's, Milwaukee's Best or Stroh's. If it weren't for the hipsters, Pabst would be just another forgotten local...Read more

Sikorski's Attic 7/26/2015: Beer taps popular among 'Breweriana' enthusiasts
Citrus County Chronicle, July 24th

Dear John: I have this old beer tap. Under the handle it says “The Cleveland Faucet Company.” We bought it at a garage sale a couple of years ago. While a friend was visiting us, he saw it and really liked it. He suggested we send you a photograph...Read more

Meet collectors of beer memorabilia June 13 in Mesa
azcentral.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

Vintage beer sign discovered in downtown wall
Columbus Telegram, May 7th

Jeff Gokie, who owns Henry on 11th Reception & Banquet Hall in downtown Columbus, holds a tin sign, possibly from the 1930s, advertising Blatz Old Heidelberg Beer. Gokie found the sign inside a wall while renovating the building. 2015-05-07T08:00:00Z ...Read more

Vintage Beer? Aficionados Say Some Brews Taste Better With Age
NPR, January 9th

In the late 1970s, a young Southern California beer enthusiast named Bill Sysak began doing something quite novel at the time. He bought cases of beer and stashed the bottles in his basement to age like wine. Over several years, Sysak discovered that ...Read more