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Definitions

Here are some definitions of common terms used in beer can collecting.  Many of the terms include links to photos of examples.

Air Filled: A can that never held beer but still has both its top and bottom lids. It may have been created as a sample by a brewery or a can company. These sometimes have added interest for collectors if there is some indication that the can was meant as part of a display. Air filled cans are usually not worth extra to most collectors and are sometimes worth less.  See also "drinking mug" and "never filled."
ABA: American Breweriana Association.  The 2d largest breweriana collector's group, the ABA publishes a very nice magazine every other month.  Their website has more information. (link opens a new window). I joined the ABA several years ago. (see also BCCA, ECBA, NABA, Rusty Bunch).
Bank Top: A can made with a slot in the lid for coins. Usually produced by a brewery or a can company as a souvenir.  To most collectors they do not have an added value over a can used to actually hold beer. (photo)
BCCA: Brewery Collectibles Clubs of American.  Founded in 1970 as the Beer Can Collectors of America. The BCCA is the largest of the breweriana collectors clubs with almost 4,000 members.  They annual meeting is called Canvention. Visit their website for more information (opens new window). I have been a member of the BCCA since 1977. (see also ABA, ECBA, NABA, Rusty Bunch)
BCU (Beer Cans Unlimited): Published in the late 1970s and early 1980s by Maverick Publishing in Missouri. An early attempt to give monetary values to beer cans. Its reference numbers are still commonly used to indicate a specific can. For example, BCU 32-2 would be the 2d can on page 32.
Beer Can Flats: an sheet of beer cans that were never cut and rolled into individual cans. May also refer to a single unrolled can.  Also called "unrolled cans."
Bible (The Beer Can Collector's Bible):  Written by Jack Martells and published in 1976, the Bible has photos of both flattops and pull tabs from the United States.  It does not list cans larger than 12 oz.  It does not give values to cans but it does give reference numbers, indicates approximately when a can first appeared, and has lots of interesting information on dating cans, different types of cans, etc.  Still useful for the novice collector! There is also a "Cone Top Collector's Bible" by Martells, which is not referenced as often and is difficult to find but very interesting.
Bock Beer: A dark, heavier beer traditionally brewed to lager all Winter for consumption in Spring.  Most bock beer cans have the image of a goat on them.  I've heard that this was because bock beer is brewed in January, during Capricorn, but the reality is probably simpler.  Bock means "goat" in German.  Supposedly bock beer was created centuries ago in Einbeck Germany.  The darker, heavier beer they made in Winter became known as "Einbeck Bier", which turned into "Ein (or "one") Beck bier" which then turned into "Ein BOCK bier."  And since "BOCK" means "GOAT" the rest is history.   There is some more info at www.faqs.org. Bock Beer cans are often scarcer than the same brands in normal non-bock types. (photo) There is also a chapter of the BCCA (Beer Can Collectors of America) dedicated to collecting bock stuff.  Called "The Merry Bocksters", they have a nice web site.
Breweriana: Any collectable related to brewing or beer including cans, bottles, labels, signs, trays, openers, stationary, etc.
Camouflage Can: A can produced in olive green for the U.S. military from 1944-45. It used to be thought that the cans were colored olive green as camouflage, but it is now generally believed that they were painted green simply because the US Army had almost everything it purchased painted that color. Most camouflage cans are rare and are highly desirable to collectors. Many were shipped to troops overseas and so can not be found in the US easily. (photo
Can in a Can: When you find a beer can in a dump that had been placed inside another, larger can before being thrown out. Cans in a can are usually in much better shape that normally you find in a dump.
Church key: a device invented with the beer can which was used to punch holes in the can's lid in order to pour out the can's contents. The derivation of the term is uncertain. (photo)
Cone Top: a type of can with a spout on its top, produced from 1935 until about 1960, although it was most common in the 1930s and 1940s. Conetops were originally marketed as being acceptable to consumers because they closely resembled the already familiar beer bottle. Conetops went out of vogue in part because they could not be filled as fast on the brewery production line as flat top cans, they did not stack easily in refrigerators, and because as time passed. consumers became used to drinking beer from a can which negated the conetops advantage in looking like a bottle. There were several types of conetops; j-spouts, low profile, high profile and crowntainers. (photo)
Crimped Steel: a can, most commonly produced in the 1970s and 1980s, made of three pieces with the can's body indented slightly to fit into the lid and into the bottom piece. See also "straight steel", "two piece can", and "three piece can". (photo)
Crowntainer: a conetop produced by the Crown Cork and Seal Company from 1940 until the mid 1950s. They were most commonly used by eastern and midwestern brewers. (photo) For more information on crowntainers visit Crowntainer Central.
Drinking Mug: Breweries often had some of their cans made without lids, with the lip of the can rolled (so it wouldn't cut the drinker's lip) and they attached a handle.  These mugs might be given out at the brewery or with kegs.  Falstaff and Fehr's seemed to produce a lot of mugs from cone top cans in the 1940s.  See also, "air-filled' and "never filled."
Dumping: Looking for old cans thrown out by consumers in the past. Dumping for cans can been done in the woods, near old campgrounds, old farms, etc. Those who hunt for cans this way are called 'dumpers.'
ECBA (East Coast Breweriana Association): Founded in 1970, the same year as the BCCA, the ECBA focuses on collectable's other than cans (although many ECBA members collect beer cans as well).  They publish a quarterly magazine and hold their annual meeting in the summer.  Visit their website for more information (link opens a new window). (see also ABA, BCCA, NABA, Rusty Bunch)
 Error Can: "Error" or "mistake" cans include such things as an upside down label, labels with colors missing, misprints, double prints, parts of two different labels, etc. The latter includes mixtures of soda and beer cans. In general, error cans are not worth much to most collectors. They are surprisingly common. Sometimes double-printed cans were used to mark the end of a production run and accidentally got through to be packed. Some misprinted cans snuck past the inspector. Cans with two ends, or the wrong end, were usually from a mistake at the canning plant. In the late 1970s, when can collecting was at its height, some can company employees even made error cans to sell to collectors. The exception to this would be pre-World War II cans and, of course, cans that are rare in any condition. But even then, the can is not more to most collectors than the same can without the error.
FBIR: Flat bottom, inverted rib.  The first conetop cans, made by Continental Can Company in 1935, had flat bottoms and inverted ribs on the top.  The flat bottoms caused filling problems in the brewery and the inverted ribs retained moisture, which caused some discoloration in the metal, harmless but unappealing.  In 1936 they were replaced with concave bottoms and everted (raised) ribs. See also Flat Bottom.  For more details please see conetop.com. (opens new window)
50s Cans (fifties cans):  During the 1950s, many struggling breweries came out with colorful set cans, cans with trivia quizzes, sports scenes, etc., on them, in a bid to stay in business.  Some sets were successful and some were not.  Among the most popular among collectors are: The Drewry's horoscope, character and sports series, the Schmidt's outdoor scenes, the very similar Pfeiffer outdoor series, Rainier Jubilee series, the Esslinger Quiz cans, the Gretz car and Tooner Schooner series, several different 'fiesta' series by Meister Brau, the Redtop Summer series, the 1956 Rheingold Miss Rheingold series, the Gettleman Jubilee series, and Christmas cans from Blatz, Griesedieck and Rainier. 
Flat Bottom (conetop): The original conetop cans has flat bottoms.  They were used from 1935-1936.  They were replaced by concave bottoms in 1936.  American Can Company made some flat bottom conetops in the 1950s that they sold to a few eastern breweries, including Esslinger, Schmidt's, and Gunther. See also FBIR.
Flat Top: A can with a flat lid which required a can opener known as a "church key" to punch a hole in the can's lid in order to drink the contents. Flat tops were generally replaced in the early 1960s with the invention of the pull tab can. The term is often misused on Ebay to indicate a can which does not have a spout on the top.
Full Can: A can with the beer still in it. Generally, full cans are not worth more, but full cans from before 1960 may get a bit more money when sold.  See "air-filled."
Grading: Ranking the condition of a can usually on a scale of 1-5 with grade 1 being like new and grade 5 being so damaged as to be almost unrecognizable.  Some collectors use "mint" to mean a can above grade 1, no imperfections.  Grading cans is somewhat subjective.  I generally use the definitions and examples from "The Beer Can Collector's Bible" as a guide.
High Profile: a conetop with a prominent "high" spout. (photo)
Humidity Spotting: (or humidity rust) Very common on metallic paint or finish when it gets a little bit of surface rust that make the paint look discolored or spotty.  It usually won't clean up and it decreases a can's value.
IRTP: Internal Revenue Tax Paid. Cans of beer produced before March 1950 for sale in the US were required to indicate that the brewer had paid the necessary federal taxes. Some variation of the tax paid message appears on every can filled before March, 1950. See also "withdrawn free."
J-Spout: a conetop produced by Crown Cork and Seal from 1937 to 1942, the j-spout has an elongated spout on its top. (photo)
Keglined: Copyrighted slogan used by American Can Company for their beer cans with a lining inside to prevent the metal from coming into contact with the beer.  The "keglined" logo was gradually reduced in size and prominence as beer cans became more common.
Long Opener: 1) One of the very early (1935-1936) OI (Opening Instruction) flat top cans that had a large picture of a church key along the side of the can. Most OI cans only had a small picture of a church key.  A few brands carried the long opener picture into the 1940s but most replaced it with a smaller picture by 1937. (photo)    
2)  The term may also apply one of the original church keys, which were slightly over 5 inches in length.
Low Profile (Lo Pro): A conetop produced (with a couple of exceptions) from 1935 until 1942 by the Continental Can Company. Its spout is shorter than that of the high profile or j-spout conetops. (photo) A few west coast breweries still used them in the late 1940s.
NABA: National Association Breweriana Advertising.  Another of the breweriana collector's groups, the NABA concentrates on items other than cans.  Founded in 1971. They publish a magazine six times a year and hold their annual meeting in the summer. Visit their website for more info (link opens a new window).  I am also a member of the NABA.   (see also ABA, BCCA, ECBA, Rusty Bunch)
Never-filled:  A can that never held beer which is missing its top or bottom lid.  The status of the lid is what makes them different from "air-filled" cans. The lid must never have been attached to the can, cutting the top or bottom lid off with a can opener does not count.  Often the lip of the can is unrolled, making it unusable as a drinking mug.  See also "air filled" and "drinking mug."
Off-Grade: a can that is in less than grade 1 condition. See "grading."
OI (Opening Instruction): Early flat top cans carried instructions on their side how to use a church key to open the container. Most companies stopped printing these instructions by the late 1940s. For some reason most of the illustrations showed a woman's hands opening the can. (photo)
Olive Drab: see Camouflage Can.
On-Grade: a can in either grade 1 or mint conditions. See "grading."
Paint-Over: May mean several things.  1.) A can repainted to undo damage such as rust or fade.  Popular in the 1970s among many collectors, it is very unpopular now and collectors who get a painted over can will often remove the paint to restore it to its rusty/faded condition. 
2.) A can with one label painted over another by the can company.  This presumably occurred when a can company took part of an unsold old order and repainted a new label on it to sell to another customer.  With rubbing compound and some patience sometimes the old label can be uncovered.  Old Wagner's brake fluid cans often have a conetop beer can under their label.  (photo) There are examples pictured on the Rusty Bunch web site
3.) Toleware, popular in the 1950s, home art projects included making a sprinkling can for ironing from a conetop beer can.  The can would be covered with heavy black paint with Amish-like designs painted over it.  (photo)  As with other paintovers, the overcoat can often be stripped away to reveal the original can. See (repainted)  For an example see my May 2009 COM.
Paper Label: A can with a label made of paper (or foil) instead of having the label painted on the metal.  There are a handful of real paper label cans: 2 Ebling cones from the 1930s, 2 Gluek's Stite crowntainers from the 1950s, the first Michelob cab, an Associated OI, and the first Schlitz Malt Liquor cans from the 1960s.  Except for the Schlitz ML cans, they are all quite rare.  WARNING: numerous paper label cans have been sold on eBay in past years.  Often they are advertised as "reproductions" or some such.  Be aware, most collectors consider them to be fakes and they have no real value as "collectable's."
Pit-Dumping: To look for cans buried in trash pits.  This is popular in the Pacific Northwest where the soil conditions are favorable for easily digging a deep pit.  Pit dumping requires the use of a good metal detector and has provided a lot of previously rare cans for can collectors over the past few years.  Pits have been found elsewhere in the US, but they do not seem to be as common elsewhere as in the Pacific NW. See also "scatter-dumping."
Pop-top:  Poptop or pop-top is another term for Pull Tab.
POS (Point of Sale): A piece of breweriana advertising meant to be displayed in a store or tavern or somewhere else where the customer could buy the product. 
Pre-Pro, Pre-Prohibition: Any brewery item made before national prohibition started in January 1920. There are no pre-pro cans because the first beer can was sold in early 1935.
Private Label: see "Store Brand"
Pull Tab: a can with a tab on the top allowing the consumer to open the can without using a churchkey or other separate device. The consumer pulled on a ring or tab which pulled a piece of the lid away leaving an opening. Pull tops, or pop tops, became targets of anti-littering efforts in the 1970s and 1980s. The pull tab lid was invented in Dayton, Ohio in 1962. Pull tabs went though numerous improvements from 1962 until they were replaced by statabs in the late 1970s. See "zip top." (photo)
Push Button Top: an attempt to replace the pull tab, which separated a piece of the top of the can when pulled, with round, hinged piece the consumer pushed into the can to open. Used most commonly in the 1970s.  Coors beer used them first but ran into a lot of complaints from customers that it was hard to press open the little button holes.  They are NOT more valuable than cans with normal pull tabs. (photo)
Relidded: a can that has had its original top or bottom piece replaced, usually as part of a repair effort. Relidded cans are often regarded as having less value than cans with their original parts intact.
Repainted: a can that has had any part of its original paint redone, usually in an effort to repair damage. Repainted or 'touched up' cans are generally considered to have less value than non-repainted cans and many collectors refuse to collect repainted cans.
Rusty Bunch: The Rusty Bunch is a BCCA Chapter founded in 1985 for those members who enjoy hunting for old cans wherever they may have been tossed in the past.  Called "dumping", hunting for cans in the woods, in old buildings, tossed under porches, etc., is a lot of fun and it's added a lot to the hobby.  Over the past two decades Rusty Bunch members have discovered numerous cans from the 1930s and 1940s which were previously unknown to exist.   The Rusty Bunch publishes a monthly newsletter containing stories from members about dumping, tips on finding cans, articles on little-known variations of cans by specialists, etc. Their website is the most active discussion board for can collectors on the web. I am an active member of the RB. (see also ABA, BCCA, ECBA, NABA)
Scatter-Dumping: The use of a metal-detector to look for individual or small groups of cans buried just under the surface, often under years' worth accumulation of leaves.  This has proven to be a good way to find cans at pull-offs or near campgrounds especially in New England where the soil conditions and leaf cover provide good protection for cans. See also "pit-dumping." 
Seventies Cans (70s Cans): Usually refers to cans made specifically with collectors in mind during the high point of can collecting, roughly 1975-1985.  These cans tend to be very common and usually no longer have any value to collectors.  The most notorious of these cans are Billy Beer, MASH Beer and J.R. Beer.   I have a page dedicated to these cans.
Soft Top: a flat top with a "soft" aluminum lid which was easier to punch through with a churchkey than a traditional steel lid. Used starting in 1960 they were replaced by the first pull tabs starting in 1963.  A few were produced in the Pacific Northwest in the late 1970s as part of an anti-litter effort as soft-tops did not leave the consumer with a pull tab ring. I have a short page about this type of can. (photo)
Statab Top: An opener in which the consumer lifts a tab in the can lid which acts as a lever pushing open a hole in the lid.  Statabs started replacing pull tabs as the most popular can opening in the late 1970s. (photo)
Store Brand:  A beer packaged and sold for a particular commercial interest, usually a grocery or a liquor store. They have also been brewed for clubs, bars, and restaurants.   These cans range from the very common to the very rare.  Some of the more famous brands include 905, Brown Derby, Katz, Hoffman House and 7-11.  Also known as "private label" beers. (photo)
Straight Steel: a three piece steel flat top can with even sides joined with a top and a bottom. See also "crimped", "two piece can", and "three piece can." (photo)
Tax Stamp: Many states required brewers in the 1950s and 1960s to indicate that a state tax had been paid by stamping a tax logo on the top or bottom of each can. Tax stamps sometimes can help collectors determine when a can was produced and where it was sold. (photo)
Three Piece Can: A can made from three separate sections, a lid, the body, and a bottom.  See also ""crimped steel", "straight steel", and  "two piece can." (photo)
Touched Up: (see repainted or paint-over)
Two Piece Can: A can made of two separate section, the body and a lid. See also "crimped steel", "straight steel", and "three piece can." (photo)
USBC: United States Beer Cans, a book published by the Beer Can Collectors of America in 2000.  The USBC has photos of most of the known different beer can produced in the United States from 1935 until the mid 1960s. The USBC covers only flat tops, conetops, and gallon cans. It does not cover pull tabs.
Unrolled Cans: an sheet of beer cans that were never cut and rolled into individual cans. May also refer to a single unrolled can.  Also called "beer can flats."
Withdrawn Free: A can produced for sale by a brewery in the US for sale outside the United States or for sale on a US military base in the US before March, 1950. Withdrawn free cans included all camouflage cans, but also include non-camouflaged cans. They are marked with a variation of the IRTP statement, noting that the federal tax was not due for this item and so was not paid. See also "IRTP."
Zip Top: an early pull tab can. See "pull tab." (photo).   I also have a page with a history of these first pull tabs 

 

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