Vintage 'church key' can openers
The end of Prohibition in the United States in 1933 sparked an innovation - canned beer. The first cans went on sale in 1935 in the US. In the UK you could buy canned beer in the following year.
In those days cans were like tin cans of today without a ring-pull. So how did you get the beer out of the can?
With a church key, of course!
A church key was a US slang term for a can opener or bottle opener. They were also known as can piercers or stab can openers.
The inventor was Dewitt F Sampson, who filed a US Patent in 1935. The original design looks remarkably like can openers used in the 1950s and 1960s.
The church key was a primitive way to get at the liquid inside the can. You used its sharp point together with some leverage to make two triangular shaped holes at opposite ends at the top the can. The first was to let the beer out, the second to let the air in as it poured.
The term 'church key' for a can opener was current in the USA in the 1960s. In the early years of the decade, it was not common parlance. The Mt Adams Sun (a local paper in Washington State) described the term as 'Navalese'. 
By 1966 it was much more well used. June Wilson writing in 'The Daily News' described a 'bottle-can opener better known as a church key' as essential to a secretary as a good ballpoint pen. 
'Church key' was less well-known as a term for can opener in the UK.
In the 1960s a church key was an essential piece of equipment for a picnic or camping holiday, as well as the kitchen drawer.
The ring pull was the beginning of the end for the church key. It was invented in the 1960s. Britain was getting used to ring-pull beer cans by 1965 and soft drink cans were on their way. In 1965 the Metal Box Company, who made the cans, told people that the only can opener they would need would be their fingers. 
Church keys were great advertising. Brewers often gave them away. Every time the customer opened a beer can they knew where the can opener came from. Long Life was the first canned beer to be popular in the UK.
The larger Long Life can opener also has a bottle opener. It is inscribed:
INSERT HOOK UNDER CAN RIM AND LEVER UPWARDS. PUNCH TWO HOLES.
If you didn't want to use a cheap can-opener from a brewery, you could buy a bar set which contained various implements for the home drinks party. This set has a corkscrew, a knife and a combined bottle and can opener. They are all finished with luxurious rosewood handles.
When I started researching this piece, I thought that this style of can opener was something from the past. It turns out that you can still buy them today. They are used to open tin cans containing liquid such as evaporated or condensed milk. Today's buyers often remember an old faithful friend from childhood days.
 'What is a sailor', published in the Mt Adams Sun, 28 December 1961, page 4
 'What is a professional secretary?' by June Wilson, published in 'The Daily News of the Virgin Islands' (United States Virgin Islands), 15 February 1966, page 10
 'This is the can opener of the future', advert by Metal Box, published in The Guardian 29 November 1965, page 5
By Steven Braggs, January 2022