Where some people collect Coca-Cola products, others focus on beer-related collectibles, known as breweriana. Beer cans comprise many collections in the field of breweriana, which also covers collectors of bottle caps, bottles, mirrors, openers, labels, advertising signs, steins and drinkware, tap handles and knobs, and trays. If you are interested in collecting beer cans, or already do, head over to the Beer Can Collectors of America (BCCA) at www.bcca.com.
In 1909 a brewery in Montana contacted the American Can Company and asked about the feasibility of packaging beer in cans. The can company experimented and came to the somber conclusion that beer and the metal can were incompatible mates. The Eighteenth Amendment and Prohibition squelched any potential for fixing the beer and can estrangement for over two decades after that. In 1933, however, with Prohibition repealed and beer freely flowing in the light of the day again, the beer can became reality. The Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company of Newark, New Jersey, was the first to put its beer in cans. A test marketing campaign on its part proved a smash hit, and in 1935, the first ever public sale of beer in cans took place as Krueger's Finest Beer and Cream Ale made history. And from that moment on, beer in cans was an indispensable part of the American culture. The types of cans that constitute beer can collections are classified in four styles.
“BILLY” beer can (1976)
The earliest manufactured cans—by Krueger and friends—are labeled in the collectible trade flat tops. The original Krueger cans, followed by Pabst cans that same year, were made of heavy steel with a flat top. These cans were opened by a can/bottle combo opener—ironically, called a church key by some—and were the predominant can type in use through the 1960s.
Another can style is known as the cone top. These early-year cans were so named for their funnel-like tops and are quite peculiar-looking. Schlitz, for one, utilized this style can, as did many other small brewers of the time. The can shape enabled brewers to synchronize the filling of both their cans and their bottles on the same assembly line. By 1960, the cone top can was essentially put out to pasture, as the big guys in the beer industry had gradually vanquished most of the small breweries in their competitive paths.
The biggest innovation in can styles occurred in the 1960s when Schlitz introduced the pull tab, also referred to as the pop top. This type of can began the demise of those bulky beer cans that needed an opener, as they were slowly but surely replaced by cans with a handy ring device, where a non-arthritic finger was all that was needed to open it.
The flip side of pop-tops was that they sometimes fell into the beer and now and then choked a hapless drinker. In addition, they also proved to be environmentally unfriendly, as the discarded pull-tabs were often left in places other than trash receptacles, from sandy beaches to picnic grounds to grassy parklands, leaving an unsightly mess and slicing many a bare foot in the process. In 1975 the Falls City Brewing Company of Louisville, Kentucky, introduced the stay tab can to the marketplace. This can style rapidly won the day. The stay tab can has stayed with us and is what we're all accustomed to today.
Is it better to collect cans and bottles unopened or empty?
The problem with beer cans, particularly those original steel cans with seams along the sides, is rusting and leaking. It happens from time to time, and this—needless to say—doesn't enhance a collection. Most collectors, for this reason—and the obvious reason that they are easier to find—collect empty cans.