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Dating Cans

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A common question is “How old is this can?”   Wouldn’t it be great if early beer cans had a “born on” date like so many cans do today?  Unfortunately, they don’t, so you have to look for other hints.  Here are some of the clues used in determining the age of a crowntainer.  Click on a question to jump to more information.
 
 

Beer Cans

Beer cans made their debut on January 24, 1935 in Richmond, Virginia when the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company of Newark, New Jersey test marketed their Krueger's Finest Beer and Krueger's Cream Ale.  These cans, produced by the American Can Company, had a flat top which required opening instructions on the side of the can informing the thirsty drinker how to puncture the top of the can with a tool that became known as a "churchkey".  Soon afterwards, the National Can Company started manufacturing flat top beer cans. 

 

Cone Top Beer Cans

In September 1935, the first cap sealed cone type style beer can was introduced by the Continental Can Company for the Schlitz Brewing Company.  Crown Cork and Seal become the fourth beer can manufacturer in 1936 after acquiring the Acme Can Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  In 1937, Crown Cork and Seal introduced their own version of a cap sealed cone top called a J-Spout.

 

Crowntainer Style Cans

Because of manufacturing problems with the J-Spout, the Crown Cork and Seal Company soon gave up on them and introduced a new two-piece cone top can in late 1939.  This new style of can, which was very different from the rest, was hugely popular with small and medium sized breweries and reigned for a 15-year period.  Crowntainer cans were first used by breweries beginning in September 1939, beginning with the C. Schmidt & Sons brewery, and continued to be used until the middle 1950’s when the Louis F. Neuweiler’s Sons brewing company gave them up.  So, if you have a crowntainer, it was produced between 1939 and 1955.

 

Government Mandates

After Prohibition, brewers had to pay Federal Excise tax on every barrel of beer that they produced (while still in the vat).  Starting June 1, 1935, the US Government mandated that all beer containers have a specific tax-paid statement printed on them.  At first this statement read “Tax Paid At The Rate Prescribed By Internal Revenue Law”.  On October 1, 1938, this wordy statement was shortened to “Internal Revenue Tax Paid” (IRTP).  Since crowntainers weren't produced until late 1939, most of them until March 30, 1950 carried the shorter statement saying “Internal Revenue Tax Paid”.  This statement is commonly referred to as “IRTP”.  Sometimes, the brewery abbreviated the words “Internal Revenue” such as “Int Revenue Tax Paid”, “Internal Rev Tax Paid” and “Int Rev Tax Paid”.   

Several of the earliest crowntainers actually used the verbose statement “Tax Paid At The Rate Prescribed By Internal Revenue Law.”  Some cans that contain this statement include Old Ox Head Ale (197-22), Schmidt’s Cream Ale (198-30), Schmidt’s Light Beer (198-31), Standard Light Ale (199-05) and Wiedemann Bohemian Special Brew (199-25).  Regardless of the actual verbiage, if a crowntainer has an IRTP statement, then it was made between September 1939 and March 30, 1950.  Nearly 80% of crowntainers carry an IRTP statement.

It seems that every rule has an exception.  In the case of IRTP statement, there was another exception.  Cans produced in the United States for export to other countries for civilians and also those produced for the military during WWII. These cans had a statement saying “Withdrawn Free of Internal Revenue Tax for Exportation” and usually carried the statement “Made in the U.S.A.”   Beginning in 1936 and continuing until March 30, 1950, any beer can produced for military use had to carry the “Withdrawn” statement.  Just nine crowntainer cans carried such statements: Beer (192-6), Ebling’s Extra Special (193-9), Ebling Premium Beer (193-14L), Fitzgerald’s Burgomaster Beer (193-34), Fort Pitt Beer (194-8), Hudepohl Pure Lager Beer (195-23), Old Topper Lager Beer (197-35), Trenton Old Stock Beer (199-11), and Tru Blu White Seal Beer (199-15).

 

Patent Information

“Crowntainer” was a trademark by the Crown Cork and Seal Company that was registered with the US Patent Office & Trademark Office (USPTO).  The early Crowntainer cans carried a statement stating that the patent had been registered.  

CROWNTAINER
REG'D U.S. PAT. OFF.

This marking appeared on Crowntainers until their patent was finally approved on September 15, 1945.  After that date, the following patent statement appeared on all crowntainers.

CROWNTAINER
REG. U.S. PAT. OFF. NO. 366873
PATENT NO.2384810
DESIGN PATENT NO. 109311

Every crowntainer carried one of these two statements and is a good way of narrowing its age.  When combined with the IRTP information, this can be used to easily group crowntainers into three groups:

  1. September 1939 to September 1945: these had an IRTP stamp and a 2-line patent pending box

  2. September 1945 to March 1950: these had an IRTP stamp and a 4-line registered trademark box

  3. March 1950 to about 1955: these had no IRTP stamp and a 4-line registered trademark box

 

Brewing Since “x” For “y” Years

Some breweries were kind enough to help us determine the date with just some simple math.  The Bruck’s Jubilee crowntainers state “Since 1856” and on the side of the can have the words “85 Years” or “86 Years” which dates those cans to 1941 and 1942 respectively. Some breweries included the date when their company began brewing, but without the number of years in business at the time the can was made, there isn’t enough data to calculate the year in which the can was produced.  Unfortunately, very few breweries included both pieces of information.

 

Copyrights

Some breweries placed copyright statements on their cans.  For example, the Namar Premium Beer has a copyright date of ©1947 and Neuweiller’s Beer has a copyright date of ©1946.  From this, you know that the can was produced in or after the copyright year. 

The copyright date can be misleading because it reflects the year when the brand name was trademarked, not necessarily when that style or version of the can was produced.  For example, the yellow label Altes Beer (192-01) and silver label Altes Beer (192-04) both show a copyright date of ©1941. This is accurate for the yellow version, which was the first Altes crowntainer that was used.  However, this is not accurate for the silver version.  This is known since the latter carries the full four-line copyright statement that proves that it wasn’t produced until after September 18, 1945.  The brewery simply used the same brand name copyright date.  Another example of this can be seen on the different versions of Kamm’s Light Beer which all carry a copyright of ©1940.

The copyright date can also be misleading because it reflects the year when the brand name was trademarked, not when the brewery started producing that brand in cans.  As notable examples, Gluek’s Beer and Schmidt’s Light Beer show a copyright date of ©1933, which is when prohibition was just ending and before beer cans were even produced!  Obviously, this is not an accurate indication of the can’s age.

 

Can Color

The base coat color of crowntainers was one of five colors: silver, cream/yellow, white, dull gray and olive drab.  

Silver: (example)

Crowntainers were constructed from steel and had a coat of aluminum paint applied over them.  The breweries then applied their graphics over the top of the silver base coat. This is what earned crowntainer the nicknames of “Silver Growler” and “Silver Bumper”.   The early crowntainers came only with a silver base coat.  This by far was the most common color, with about 80% of crowntainers using a base coat of silver aluminum paint.

Olive Drab: (example)

Beginning around August of 1944, crowntainers and other cans produced for the war effort were coated in an olive drab greenish-brown paint to try to match the color of all other military supplies. The designs of military cans match the pre-war designs sold back home.  Olive Drab (OD) cans were produced only for about a year and a half.  Only six crowntainer cans were produced in Olive Drab:  Boston Light Ale (192-15), Fitzgerald’s Burgomaster Beer (193-34), Fort Pitt Beer (194-7 & 194-8),  Hudepohl Pure Lager Beer (195-23), and Old Topper Lager Beer (197-35).  All of these cans also carried a “Withdrawn Free…” statement, except for the first Fort Pitt (194-7) that had just an IRTP statement.

Dull Gray:  (example)

Near the end of WWII in 1945, Crown Cork & Seal quickly resumed production of Crowntainers.  This was possible since crowntainers were made of steel and didn’t require tinplate that that was used in the war effort and didn’t become available to other can manufacturers until 1947.  When crowntainer production resumed, cans had a dull gray (or battleship gray) color.  Only fifteen crowntainers were produced with this short-lived base color.  All of them carry the 2-line patent pending box which dates them prior to September 18, 1945.

White:  (example)

Crowntainers were unique in their construction and manufactured from two pieces: the body and spout were drawn and formed from steel and then the bottom was attached.  Then, the aluminum coating was applied and later the brewery’s graphics were painted onto the cylinder.  This is in contrast to all other beer cans from that era, including cone tops and flat tops, were constructed from three pieces.  A flat sheet of tin was painted with the brewery’s graphics then cut into rectangular pieces that were rolled into a cylinder.  The seams were fastened together and the top and bottom were attached.   It was much easier to apply colorful and intricate designs to a flat sheet of tin that to a steel cylinder.  Because of this drawback, most crowntainers are looked dull in comparison to other beer cans. To compensate, some brewers painted the entire crowntainer in a white enamel paint to achieve a nicer looking package. 

Yellow: (example)

Instead of using white paint, some breweries painted the entire crowntainer in a cream or yellowish enamel paint.   Although the white and yellow enamel painted cans started to catch on after 1947, many breweries continued to use the silver base coat into the 1950’s.

Painted Can / Silver Spout:  (example)

Some breweries combined the techniques.  They applied a white or yellow base coat to the body of the can but left the spout in its original silver color.  Only a handful of cans used this technique.

Brewery Production Dates

The clues mentioned above may be found right on the can itself.   Another good way of narrowing down the age of a can is by finding out when the brewery was in operation. On my Breweries page, there is a list of breweries that used (or tested) crowntainer style cans.  On the right are the approximate dates after prohibition when they resumed producing beer and when they ended production.  Please note that a start date of “January 1” means they began sometime during that year and an end date of “December 31” means they shut down sometime during that year.

For example, the Loewer’s Brewing Company of New York City began production in September 1944 and ended in 1948.  Any can produced by Loewer’s, like their Blue Crest Beer, must have been during that period.  As another example, the Tivoli Brewing Company of Detroit changed its name to the Altes Brewing Company in 1948.  Therefore, any cans from Tivoli are from 1948 or earlier.

 

Brand Production Dates

Finally, it would be helpful to know when a brewery produced a particular brand of beer.  For example, the Washington Breweries, Inc. of Columbus, Ohio produced a German style beer called Noch-Eins.  When World War II began, they quickly changed the brand name to Washington XX Pale, complete with red, white & blue colors and an American eagle.  This change over occurred around 1942.  

 
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Last updated 08/17/17

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