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to look for when trying to date a potential war-era can, which should also have a statement on it that reads, "Withdrawn Free of Internal Revenue Tax for Exportation."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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8. Nice hunting camper, 11ft slide-in truck camper, $550
Sheridan Media (press release), October 6th

Vinyl records and CDs, hunting and fishing items, jack knives and hunting knives, coins, gold and silver, broken jewelry, railroad items, military and mining items, vintage photographs and stamps, aviation related items, vintage beer related items...Read more

Buffalo Beer
Artvoice, October 4th

Powell is interviewed in Buffalo Beer, as is Buffalo beer historian Dave Mik, who also supplies a number of great photos of his vast collection of breweriana, which includes many rare trays, tap handles, bottles, brewer badges and signs. This...Read more

Breweriana Bonanza: Beer cans tell story of long-gone breweries
The State Journal-Register, October 3rd

Don Hardy of Westmont started collecting beer cans back in 1969 when he went to a grocery store and saw a can from a brewery in New York. He was too young to buy the can himself, but his dad bought it, and he took it home and put it on display in his...Read more

Cheers! Potosi Brewing toasts the future, salutes its history with beer
Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, September 27th

The historic brewery building along the river bluff is also home to the American Breweriana and the Wisconsin Great River Road transportation museums. Coupled with a restaurant and craft beer, it puts Potosi, population 685, on the map of Midwest ...Read more

Beer memorabilia collectors coming to Milwaukee
Milwaukee 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

Breweriana show to bring in beer-book illustrator, June 24th

CLEVELAND, Ohio – When the BCCA started in 1970, its focus was solely on trading cans. It evolved, altering its mission and changing its name from Beer Can Collectors of America to its current Brewery Collectibles Club of America. Now it's broadening ...Read more

Meet collectors of beer memorabilia June 13 in Mesa, 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

Breweriana show held; Cleveland 'seriously considered' for national convention ... (blog), May 3rd

CLEVELAND, Ohio – A gathering of breweriana enthusiasts celebrated more than just old beer cans Sunday. It was Cleveland history that remained in the nostalgic spotlight that soon might bring the city national attention. The Lake Erie chapter of the...Read more