Maybe your grandfather left you a bunch of old beer cans, and you're wondering what they might be worth. Maybe you're doing some home remodeling and found some old beer cans inside a wall, an attic or a crawl space. It would be a good idea to read this short article before throwing any of those cans away. You will be pleasantly surprised to learn that some old beer cans can be quite valuable.
If you have cans you wish to sell, you may email Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(THESE THREE CANS ARE NOT OLD ENOUGH TO BE VALUABLE)
SUPPLY, DEMAND, CONDITION AND DESIGN...What makes a beer can valuable? There are many factors that come into play when assessing values, but basically they can be boiled down to supply, demand, condition and design. Supply refers to the availability or number of cans which are known to exist. Obviously, rare cans, (small supply), are usually more valuable than more common ones, (large supply). The three cans pictured at left were from the heyday of beer can collecting in the mid-1970's to the mid-1980's. Because so many people saved these cans, they are not valuable to collectors today. Generally, demand is high for flat top cans, a container first marketed by American Can Company, which were produced from 1935 to about the mid-1960's, and for cone top cans, which were available from 1936 to about the same time. The earliest flat top cans, which are known as OI, (or opening instructional), cans were produced between 1935 and 1941, and are highly sought-after by serious collectors. These cans are very heavy in construction and have flat tops which required the use of a special opener, which was hooked under the rim of the can. These cans were quite a novelty in their day...people were not accustomed to drinking out of cans. For this reason, they contained opening instructions which were printed on the body of the can (hence the name). One of the drawbacks of the flat top can, (in the eyes of the breweries), was that it required them to install new (and very expensive) canning lines in their breweries, which many of the smaller brewers could not afford. The cone top beer can was first marketed by Continental Can Company to fill this niche. By producing a can that opened like a bottle, it was possible for breweries to use their existing bottling lines to fill and cap these cans. Rare American cone tops and flat tops generally command higher prices than non-US (foreign) cans of equal rarity. This is because there are more "serious" collectors of US cans than there are of non-US cans. However, there does seem to be a resurgence in world can collecting in recent years, resulting in steeply upward price trends for rare foreign cans.
The economy, of course, plays an important role in the prices of beer cans. In times of a booming economy, people generally have more disposable income to devote to things like beer cans. In more uncertain times, collectors are usually less willing to pay premium prices. The number of active collectors is also a large factor in pricing, just as we saw in the example of the three cans pictured above. During the high point of the hobby in the mid-seventies and early eighties, there were perhaps 50,000 active collectors in the United States alone! Largely because of this staggering number, there is an over-supply of many cans from this time period, and as a result, values of these cans are low, (usually under 25 cents each). Many of the collectors of this era were teenagers, (like myself), who were attracted to the new craze which was sweeping America. By the mid-eighties and early nineties the craze was over, as many of these teenagers went off to college and started families of their own. We are seeing now that many of these same people are returning to the hobby as adults, helping to invigorate the values of rare cans. The number of active collectors now stands at perhaps eight to ten thousand active collectors worldwide.
The condition of a can is very important in determining it's value. Cans are often graded from 1+ down to 5, with 1+ being mint condition and 5 being very rusty, scratched, dented, faded, and/or full of holes. Most serious collectors demand cans in the 1 to 1+ range, although there are some who will collect cans in "off-grade" condition. It must be noted however, that value drops exponentially with condition. Here is a guide to grading beer cans from the Brewery Collectibles Club of America, with some added notes:
Grade 1+ Virtually Perfect Can. No noticeable imperfections. Only a few cans even come off the line in 1+ condition.
Grade 1/1+ Extremely minor scratches or dings around the rim. Lids may show some discoloration or tarnishing. No humidity spots, no rust or dents. No other imperfections. Many dealer websites quote values based on this condition.
Grade 1 Very minor scratches, marks, or humidity spots on the surface.
Grade 1- Very light fading of colors. Very small humidity marks, scratches or dents on the surface. A can in grade 1- condition often will have only about 25% of the value of a can in 1+ condition, depending on the rarity of the brand and label design.
Grade 2+ Noticeable spots, blotches, scratches, dents or rust spots. Often applies to cans found indoors though occasionally a 2+ can can be found out-of-doors.
Grade 2 Has a clean label, but there may be rust or other blemishes near the seam, the lid, or the bottom. Colors may be irregular.
Grade 2- Label is somewhat clean but there is rust and other imperfections elsewhere on the can.
Grade 3 Multiple scratches, spotting, rusting, and dents. Label is readable and the color is still decent.
Grade 4 A rusted can, but easily identified by brand and label. Can will have fading, dents, rust, scratches, etc.
Grade 5 Very rusted and damaged. Barely recognizable as to brand or label.
If you have beer cans that you want to sell, it is very important to factor in the condition of the cans to come up with a realistic assessment of their value. As noted above, a grade 1- can might only be worth 25% of what a grade 1+ can would be; And a grade 2, 3 or lesser grade might be worth nothing, depending on the rarity of the label. Extremely rare labels, on the other hand, may be relatively valuable, even in a grade 4 condition.
Design is another important factor. Some types of cans, (like the OI flat tops and cone tops mentioned earlier, as well as their cousins the Crowntainers) as well as some early straight steel pull tab cans, (1962 to about 1970), are in much more demand than crimped steel, extruded steel or aluminum cans which were produced from the seventies to the present. Lastly, aesthetic considerations, which can be largely subjective, play a major role in can values. Cans with interesting graphics, such as the famous Tennent's cans from Scotland, tend to be more in demand than cans of similar rarity with less eye-appealing graphics.
Cans pictured above from left to right: 1. Back side of a Krueger OI flat top, showing the opening instructions, (value: approx. $75.) 2. (Eastside) cone top beer can (value: $50.) 3. The top view of a flat top (or punch top) beer can. (The two holes in the top were made with a special "church key" type opener). 4. (Gettleman) flat top beer can. This is an example of a late flat top from about the mid-sixties.(value: approx. $10.) 5. (Fischer's) straight steel early pull tab. This is a relatively rare one. (value: approx. $10). 6. Tennent's Penny straight steel pull tab from Scotland. This brewery is famous for it's "Lager Lovelies" beer cans. (value: 50 cents to $1). 7. Iron City beer can with a picture of the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is an example of a crimped steel can. Notice that the diameter of the top and bottom are smaller than the body of the can. (This was done to save money on the ends of the can).(value: 0 to $1). 8. (Prinz) This is an example of a two-piece extruded steel can. Notice that the body and bottom of the can are formed from a single piece of steel. (value: 0-$1.)
APPROXIMATE VALUES IN US DOLLARS (BASED ON GRADE 1+ / MINT CONDITION)
American OI (opening instructional) flat tops (1935-1941): $35 up to $1000 or more, depending upon the brand.
Flat top (1941-1965) and cone top (1935-1960) beer cans: $10 up to $500 or more, depending upon the brand.
Pull tab beer cans(straight steel 1962-1978), (crimped steel about 1975-1985), extruded steel and aluminum (about 1969 to present): $0 up to $10 or more, depending upon the brand.