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to look for when trying to date a potential war-era can, which should also have a statement on it that reads, "Withdrawn Free of Internal Revenue Tax for Exportation."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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Kent-area community calendar | April 17
Kent Reporter, April 17th

Great old bottles, jars, glassware, insulators, advertising collectibles, breweriana, photos, pottery and much more. Early buyer admission $5 on May 16; fREE admission on May 17. Sixth annual Kent International Festival: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and 7-10 p.m...Read more

Vintage Beer Ads
Paste Magazine, April 17th

You can learn a lot about a country by studying its print beer ads. Take a look at the beer ads from the '40s, '50s and '60s. For those three decades, it was obvious that we liked our guys in hats, and our women in dresses (preferably in the kitchen...Read more

Go Play Calendar
Montgomery Advertiser, April 16th

Spring Fling Brewery Collectibles Show: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at the Railyard Brewing Co., 12 W. Jefferson St.This show and swap meet features “breweriana” — all kinds of beer-related advertising, packaging and equipment. Patrons are invited to bring ...Read more

Vintage Beer Hits the Mainstream
Portland Monthly, April 16th

In Patrick Dawson's new book Vintage Beer: A Taster's Guide to Brews that Improve Over Time, the North Denver Tribune's beer columnist sings the praises of cellaring beer and aims to prove old beers are the best beers. Before reading on, a caveat...Read more

Beer on the move
Providence.thephoenix, April 16th

The store will have a 23-door custom beer cooler, a climate-controlled vintage beer room, and a high-end scotch and whiskey room in a walk-in safe. The opening is slated for late May/early June; check their Facebook page for updates and the grand...Read more

Here's Kelis' Tasty Tips On How To Plan A Popping Party
Vibe, April 16th

“Some days I want a great vintage beer; the other day I got [Goose Island's] Matilda. It was so good—perfect bottle size. It's Belgian-style. I love Belgian beer. I am also a big wine drinker. I like to be well stocked.” Bust Out the China “Never do...Read more

Initiatives of Syracuse, Detroit museums might offer new strategies for Everson
The Post-Standard, April 14th

A New York City company re-created one of OHA's vintage beer trays and it has sold well here and there, said Tripoli. This collaborative monetization of the OHA collaboration generates additional revenue as the manufacturers share with OHA a portion of ...Read more

Sushi demos at Shaw's; guide to vintage beer
Windy City Times, April 2nd

—Shaw's Sushi Chef Naoki Nakashima, an authority on Japanese cuisine and etiquette, will lead interactive Japanese sushi demonstrations at Shaw's Chicago on Saturday, April 26, and Saturday, May 31. Both of the classes will take place 12-3 p.m. The ...Read more