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to look for when trying to date a potential war-era can, which should also have a statement on it that reads, "Withdrawn Free of Internal Revenue Tax for Exportation."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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Upcoming meetings and events
Topeka Capital Journal, September 20th

Information: 232-2032, tso@topekasymphony.org or www.topekasymphony.org. 20th annual Beer Can and Breweriana show, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28, Crestview Shelter House, 4901 S.W. Shunga Drive. Features beer cans, signs and man cave stuff; ...Read more

Song for Jim Kupferschmidt
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (blog), September 19th

and his brother founded an annual picnic for descendants of those who once lived on the island. He collected beer memorabilia and a lot of other things too, according to his cousin, Barara Suter. He loved the Beatles and had a vast collection of...Read more

'Breweriana' Show Reveals Pennsylvania History
State College News, September 13th

Jim Dickel, a “breweriana” collector from Mount Savage, Maryland, got his start collecting almost 40 years ago when he and a friend stole a pair of antique beer thermometers from the bar where they worked. They were from the Old German and Old Export ...Read more

Wool uniforms, no gloves and vintage beer recipes: Recreating 19th century ...
National Post, September 12th

PHILADELPHIA — From afar, it looks and sounds like a regular recreational baseball game: the crack of the bat, the cheering from the bench, the sliding into home. But a closer glance at this field in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park shows something isn't...Read more

Good food, brews on tap at the Erie Ale House
GoErie.com, September 10th

Throughout you'll find framed collections of vintage beer cans used as art. My husband Doug and I stopped at the Erie Ale House recently for a quick weekday lunch. Doug chose the special of the day: Beef on Weck served with your choice of side for $5.95...Read more

Marz Community Brewing launches with a small space, a big crew, a great party ...
Chicago Reader, September 8th

At its current facility, Marz will top out at maybe 900 barrels a year, and that will require more fermentation vessels (which aren't in the cards till late this winter at the earliest). Mike Marszewski displays part of his vintage beer-can collection...Read more

White Owl set to stage first antiques festival
The Independent Tribune, September 3rd

Owl Fest antiques festival this Saturday and Sunday. There will also be old motorbikes, including a military bike, a Whizzer and a Simplex, as well as lots of neon vintage beer signs, old advertising signs and a working Lance snack machine from the...Read more

Four new books for beer lovers
Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 27th

Patrick Dawson's book “Vintage Beer”(Storey Publishing, $14.95) answers these questions and more. Dawson outlines the characteristics that make beer suitable for aging — think malt-forward and high-alcohol — and provides several examples of...Read more