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to look for when trying to date a potential war-era can, which should also have a statement on it that reads, "Withdrawn Free of Internal Revenue Tax for Exportation."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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Breweriana enthusiasts come to Topeka to check out cansTopeka Capital Journal, September 28th
Breweriana: Any collectible related to brewing or beer, including labels, signs, trays, openers and stationery. Cone top: A type of can topped with a spout produced from 1935 until about 1960, but most common in the 1930s and 1940s. It quickly was...Read more
'Breweriana' Show Reveals Pennsylvania HistoryState 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
15 Awesome Vintage Beer CansPaste Magazine, July 22nd
Earlier this month, Narragansett announced it was bringing back its classic 1975 can — the same one famously crushed by Captain Sam Quint — in honor of the 39th anniversary of Jaws. The brewery is only the latest to join a growing trend of beer...Read more
Pittsburgh Hosting BeerFest & Breweriana Conventions This WeekendCBS Local, July 18th
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Roll out those beer cases and prime the taps! Stage AE on the North Shore is preparing for the second annual Pittsburgh Summer Beerfest. “There will be 8,000 people here over the two nights,” says events director Craig Johnson...Read more
'Breweriana' show features old beer cans, trays, signs, Cleveland historyThe Plain Dealer, July 13th
BCAA has been in existence 44 years and has evolved from an organization that once focused solely on trading cans to a group that promotes all things breweriana, valuing the history of openers, trays, bottles, clocks, coasters – really anything...Read more
Breweriana show, sale to celebrate brewing history, collectiblesThe Plain Dealer (blog), June 27th
"It's (breweriana) in big demand all over the world; it's not just a big thing here," said Rodger Brane, president of the local chapter of the 44-year-old BCCA. "We invite the public. The key thing is there are so many guys in the area – their aunt...Read more
Cleveland-area breweriana show set for July 13Akron Beacon Journal (blog), June 25th
Breweriana at the show will include items on display and for sale ranging from pre-Prohibition to today's craft beer industry. There will be free cans and other breweriana items available for novice collectors. Appraisers and cash buyers also will attend...Read more
Julians Vintage Beer DinnerEat Drink RI, June 8th
Eat Drink RI contributor Adam Baffoni was a guest of Julians at their Vintage Beer Dinner in April and offers this coverage of the evening. Julians has their next beer dinner, the Fourth Annual Allagash Brewing Company Beer Dinner, coming up on Sunday, ...Read more