Top-opened & Bottom-opened Cans
(revised: 25 May 1998)
Should cans be opened from the top or from the bottom?
Most collectors would not even think of argueing about this subject,
as the answer would surely be: from the bottom.
Bottom-opened cans are often looked at as more valuable than top-opened ones,
especially in American countries, and some collectors do not even keep top-opened
But since I like playing the part of the black sheep, my advice is to open cans
just as you prefer.
As a matter of fact, I personally open them from the top (except in very
few cases), and many other collectors just do the same.
If you think that the top of the can is a valuable part to preserve, just as the body (i.e. the
decorated part), then you would surely have to open your specimens from the bottom.
What you need for doing this is a sharp pointed tool, by which you should make
on the bottom of the can at least two holes (one is for the air to get in, or the beer would not pour easily).
Older "steels" were often bottom-opened with the typical can opener once used for
"flat tops", but apart from making rather large triangular holes, these openers need a rim to keep
the tool steady while piercing the metal surface, and the more recent "two piece cans" (i.e. the
current ones) do no longer have a rim at the bottom. Therefore, a narrow-pointed tool, like
a punch, will probably be easier and safer to use, and will better preserve the bottom of the specimen.
|Turn the can upside down on a hard and solid surface (a table, etc.) and place the point of
the tool near the rim; then, holding it firmly into place with one hand, give the bottom of the
tool two or three strokes with the other hand: aluminium and extruded cans will very easily be
pierced. While striking, it's important not to tilt the can, as it could get scratched or
For mere esthetical reasons holes should be small, no wider than 1 cm / ½ inch.
In pouring from a bottom-opened can, though, it is almost impossible not to dribble beer all
around the place.
this is what the bottom
should look like
Bigger problems with bottom-opened cans are:
- It is very difficult to pour out all the fluid, so that a small amount of beer
(or water, if you rinse the can) will easily remain inside, unless you make the holes wide enough to
insert a piece of paper tissue to dry it up.
Of course, you can leave the can upside down on a radiator for a few hours, but sometimes this is
- If the can has some dents, they are much more difficult to smoothen, unless you enlarge
the bottom holes to let a tool inside.
- If you're on the hunt for cans away from home, you should always carry a punch with you!
- If you ask a non-collector friend to spare a few cans for you while on a holiday, don't expect
him to open them from the bottom: you would either get top-opened cans or you wouldn't get
cans at all.
But if the top has some kind of decoration, a special text, a special offer, etc. it's really
worth to puncture the can from the bottom to preserve the opening device.
Apart from these technical grounds, there's a more 'ethical' reason: cans are made for being
opened from the top (this is what they have an opening device for!); from my point of view,
one regular hole on the top is better than two (or even more) holes on the bottom, which
in some cases are made in a very rough way: such ugly jagged holes sometimes look as if the
can has been used as a shooting target.
All in all, if you keep your specimens on shelves, as most collectors do, the bottom of the
can is not visible, but neither is the top (covered by the next shelf above).
Therefore, whatever is your choice, I suggest not to be too strict: if you open cans from the bottom, do
keep in your collection also top-opened specimens (at least, until you have a bottom-opened one
as a replacement), and vice-versa.
And always remember that beer can collecting has no specific rules: it's your hobby, it's your
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Making your own catalogue
As your collection grows, a personal catalogue might turn out very useful: when attending
collectors' meetings or simply when travelling you will always have your collection at hand for
quick reference (...and for proudly showing it to other collectors, too!).
The best way to do this is to take colour pictures of your cans, in groups of 25-30 at a time
(a larger number would cause small details to be unreadable), possibly grouping your specimens by
country, by size, by brand, etc. for easy reference.
Every time you get 30-60 new cans the catalogue will need updating, with one/two pictures of the new entries.
There's no need to be a professional photographer to take good pictures. Just a few hints:
- display specimens in three rows of 8-10 cans, one on top of the other; each row should be made
of cans of the same size (330 ml. or 355 ml., or 500 ml., etc.)
Be sure the top rows are steady and won't tilt! For better balance, you can rest them
on pieces of cardboard (or similar material) inserted between the rows
- give the cans on the outer part of each row a slight inward turn (as shown), so that in the
picture they will appear perfectly centered
- the light source should be located above the cans pointing downwards, or below
the cans pointing upwards, so to avoid unpleasant reflections on the shiny metal surfaces;
for the same reason never use a flash
- outdoor pictures (i.e. natural light) have better colours, but beware of light reflections:
they might cause some details to be unreadable
- artificial (electric) light will give rather yellowish colours, which can be sufficiently
improved asking your dealer for a colour correction during the film processing
- use a film with at least 100 ASA/ISO speed
note the difference between
the top row (not centered)
and the others (centered)
- the aperture should be no less than 5.6 so the picture will have a sufficient depth of field,
and smaller details will come out sharp enough
- for non-reflex cameras, such as Polaroids, etc.
- in shooting keep a sufficient distance away from the cans: every camera has a specific 'minimum focus distance'
- turn off the automatic flash (if your camera model has this function), using an alternative source of light if needed
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