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to look for when trying to date a potential war-era can, which should also have a statement on it that reads, "Withdrawn Free of Internal Revenue Tax for Exportation."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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It's always a party at this whiskey-fueled Lincoln Park legend.
RedEye Chicago, March 3rd

Sounds like: During the week, whatever the DJ is spinning—count on some kind of punk rock, metal, roots and rockabilly, interpretive R&B or rock 'n' roll. On most Friday and Saturdays, guests pick from the jukebox, curated to whatever the theme of the...Read more

Things to do this week: March 3-8
Cincinnati.com, March 3rd

Celebration of city's German-American heritage. Authentic German dancing, variety shows and music, along with tours, authors, steins and breweriana exhibits. Everyone wearing traditional German dress gets $1 off beer. 513-604-9812; www.bockfest.com...Read more

Beer List for the Lucky Lab Barleywine and Big Beer Tastival
The Daily Meal, March 3rd

It's one of our favorites because it is usually so under-attended and is full of vintage beer gems that have aged gracefully without any lines. I was invited to taste many of the older vintage beers in advance to see how they have aged. For every 3 or...Read more

Crazy Cobb salads and free pizza on the search for N.J.'s best bars
NJ.com, February 18th

Hundreds of vintage beer cans dot the shelves. Old Causeway has a wood-fired grill, and the rib eye was one of the standout dishes of the past three weeks. Always listen to your waitress, and Jaclyn Boffice was right on with the yellowfin tuna poke...Read more

80 years in the making: Bluefield businessman collects vintage beer cans
Bluefield Daily Telegraph, January 24th

Charlie Cole, stands in front of a portion of his beer can collection at his home in Bluefield, Va. Friday. Posted: Saturday, January 24, 2015 4:30 am. 80 years in the making: Bluefield businessman collects vintage beer cans By BLAKE STOWERS Bluefield ...Read more

Brewery Collectibles Club holds Winterfest Breweriana Collectibles & Beer Cans ...
MLive.com, January 17th

Cans line the walls and tables at the Winterfest Breweriana Collectibles & Beer Cans Show on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, at the Dom Polski Hall, located off of North Linden Road in Flint. Thousands of items from classic soda and beer cans, tap handles to...Read more

A conversation with the author of 'Vintage Beer'
Daily Record, January 14th

We're now at a point in the U.S. where many of the new the breweries have been making beer for at least a generation. Having moved beyond the delicate and time sensitive lagers, its not uncommon to see many big boozy beers on shelves. While they are ...Read more

Vintage Beer? Aficionados Say Some Brews Taste Better With Age
NPR (blog), 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