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Old 02-14-2020, 02:37 PM
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Free church-keys?


Guess I’ve got beer on the mind today. So anywho, a few weeks ago we were helping dad clean out a bunch of possessions gathering dust at his place. He had several ‘junk drawers’. In one of these I counted no less than eight old church-key bottle/can openers. These were all at least 50 years old and featured lots of cool old school mostly defunct beer brands (e.g. Goebel, Drewery’s, Rhinelander) names on them. I asked him where he’d got so many and why he bothered to keep buying them if he already had several. Dad said “nobody BOUGHT church-key openers back then. They used to give them away for free at stores.”
Dad’s been known to make overly-sweeping generalizations now and then, but I also know he’s an extremely frugal person and in my observations, it would be rather unlikely even minor household funds would be expended in acquiring something the household already had. I do know that I have never encountered any stores in my lifetime giving away church keys for free, but figured I would pose the question to the older Dopers:
Were church-key openers commonly handed out for free at grocery stores before the introduction of pop top cans?
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Old 02-14-2020, 02:47 PM
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Church keys made in bulk were cheap and a lot more than beer use to need them. In the Navy our box lunches came with church keys even when there was nothing in them that needed one. I came home with a dozen of those easily. My guess is the Navy was running down a supply of church keys left over from an earlier time.

I know my Dad had some cheap ones from the 60s or before into the early 80s. At least 2 of them said either Reingold or Ballatine, I can't remember which now.
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Old 02-14-2020, 03:02 PM
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...Were church-key openers commonly handed out for free at grocery stores before the introduction of pop top cans?
Minor nitpick - the other end was for non-twist-of bottlecaps.

I was born in 60, so I wasn't buying such things myself, but have a vague sense that churchkeys were just the kinda thing that "turned up" rather than being bought. And they never really wore out, so you tended to amass multiple ones. I'd imagine they were handed out at liquor stores and such as promotions.

Thinking back, my mom bought the groceries and dad always made a separate trip to the liquor store. Did groceries not sell booze back then?

Tangentially related - we were at Joshua Tree last week, and while touring an old homestead, I saw an old ring-style poptop on the ground. I asked my 29 yr-old dtr - she had no idea what it was!
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Old 02-14-2020, 03:11 PM
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ahhh.....I have only vague memories, but fond ones...... of family reunions in the early 1960's.I was 6-8 years old.

Lots of relatives, lots of picnic tables, lots of hot dogs, lots of bottles of soda....and LOTS of churchkey bottle openers. I used to play with them, and had a wonderfully jolly and fat uncle who would help me open my bottle of chocolate flavored something.Then he'd hand me the opener and I'd take it with me. And then somebody would pick up a bottle and call out "hey,who's got an opener"--and everybody nearby would hand him the nearest one.
Openers were plentiful. So I'm pretty sure they were free.

Probably given away at gas stations, too....Remember when gas stations had a "ringer"--a rubber hose laying on the ground ,so that as soon as your car entered the area, it ran over the hose which made a bell ring? And then the attendant would run* to your car. They would pump the gas, check your oil, wash your windshield, give you free maps and a toy for the kids and give you a free gift for yourself. I seem to remember churchkey openers with the logo of gas stations. Sinclair Gas used a logo with Dino the dinosaur, and I had lots of Dino toys, including-- I think--some bottle openers.

*(One brand of stations had a stopwatch sign, with a big arrow that started rotating at the moment of the ring, counting the seconds. If the attendant didn't get to your car within 30 seconds, you won a free prize.)

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Old 02-14-2020, 03:21 PM
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Heck, I was at a beer/wine tasting late last year, and the beer companies were giving away openers. They just had the bottle cap remover, however.

I do remember rewatching The Graduate and being a little taken aback by Hoffman using a can opener on his beer while floating in the pool. I'm old enough to remember such cans, but really came of age in the ring-pull era (and had the sliced feet to show for it from carelessly discarded ones).
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Old 02-14-2020, 03:29 PM
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I came of age with ring-pulls, but there were still church keys everywhere. I remember using them to open cans of soda as a child.

Once everybody switched to stay-on tabs, these became the tool of choice for beer advertising. I must own 30 of those suckers.
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Old 02-14-2020, 03:29 PM
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My wife has several bottle-openers which had belonged to her grandparents; many of them have the name of a store (or a brand of beer) printed on them, which strongly suggests to me that they were give-aways.

To the OP: are they this kind of church key (which look to be stamped out of a flat metal plate), or this kind (which seem to be cast)? (We have a few of both designs.)

Even once beer cans switched to pull-tab openers (and, later, pop-tops), church keys were (and are) still useful for opening bottle caps. And, I remember my mom using the pointed end of the church key to open cans of Hawaiian Punch when I was a kid.

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Old 02-14-2020, 03:42 PM
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Originally Posted by kenobi 65 View Post
My wife has several bottle-openers which had belonged to her grandparents; many of them have the name of a store (or a brand of beer) printed on them, which strongly suggests to me that they were give-aways.

To the OP: are they this kind of church key (which look to be stamped out of a flat metal plate), or this kind (which seem to be cast)? (We have a few of both designs.)

Even once beer cans switched to pull-tab openers (and, later, pop-tops), church keys were (and are) still useful for opening bottle caps. And, I remember my mom using the pointed end of the church key to open cans of Hawaiian Punch when I was a kid.
Dad's church keys are all the first (stamped metal) type - with the can puncturing tool on one end and the bottle cap remover on the other end. I recall mom using the puncture end to open cans of Hi-C back in the day. I got an old Goebel church key from my parents years ago I use at our house to this day for opening cans of broth (using the puncture end) or beer bottles (using other end).

Last edited by Cardigan; 02-14-2020 at 03:43 PM.
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Old 02-14-2020, 03:44 PM
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To the OP: are they this kind of church key (which look to be stamped out of a flat metal plate),
As a kid, we used the triangular end of that for opening the cans that beverages like Hawaiian Punch came in. You make a triangular opening to pour out of and a second one on the same end but on the opposite side, to allow in air.
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Old 02-14-2020, 03:46 PM
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I can't begin to count the zillions of churchkeys that my younger hands held. Used on drink cans and bottles, sure, but also to open paint cans, or punch-out enough of the top of a food can to extract the contents, or short-out electric circuits and dangerously replace fuses, or open battery compartments when a coin wasn't handy, or make Claws of Steel by taping them to fingers. I'm sure the (mis)applications were endless. Are they still used in various parts of the world?
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Old 02-14-2020, 03:52 PM
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As a kid, we used the triangular end of that for opening the cans that beverages like Hawaiian Punch came in. You make a triangular opening to pour out of and a second one on the same end but on the opposite side, to allow in air.
I also recall doing the same thing to open cans of motor oil in that era. Preferably, one would then wash the church key (or use a different one) before opening another can of Hawaiian Punch.
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Old 02-14-2020, 03:53 PM
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Are they still used in various parts of the world?
Regularly. I have one with a magnet stuck to my fridge, for opening beer bottles. My wife uses it for opening cans of broth when she's cooking (on those occasions when she doesn't buy the broth in boxes).

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Old 02-14-2020, 04:15 PM
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I also recall doing the same thing to open cans of motor oil in that era. ...
Didn't they have a metal spout that you'd jam into the can top to open it? Yeah, at home you'd need a church key and a funnel.

We've got at least 1 of both kinds you linked to in one compartment of our silverware drawer. I think the "stamped" one is fancy, w/ a fold out corkscrew.

Show of hands - who had a car, on which they knew where you could open bottles in the door jamb?
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Old 02-14-2020, 04:16 PM
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As a kid, we used the triangular end of that for opening the cans that beverages like Hawaiian Punch came in. You make a triangular opening to pour out of and a second one on the same end but on the opposite side, to allow in air.
I also recall doing the same thing to open cans of motor oil in that era. Preferably, one would then wash the church key (or use a different one) before opening another can of Hawaiian Punch.
I think I remember that. Later my father bought a gizmo that punched a hole in the oil can and also provided a spout to use to pour the oil.
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Old 02-14-2020, 04:17 PM
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Are they still used in various parts of the world?
They're used in my part of the world, if you define that as my kitchen. I use mine for opening tomato sauce cans and for opening beer/hard cider bottles that either have crown caps--even the twist-off crown caps can be stubborn (and therefore painful). Mine is also handy for opening jars of home-canned food and to break the vacuum seal of some twist-off jar lids.
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Old 02-14-2020, 04:26 PM
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Didn't they have a metal spout that you'd jam into the can top to open it? Yeah, at home you'd need a church key and a funnel.
Yup, garages and gas stations likely had a resuable metal spout; if you had to add a quart to your own car, you might be stuck with the church key.
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Old 02-14-2020, 04:31 PM
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Thinking back, my mom bought the groceries and dad always made a separate trip to the liquor store. Did groceries not sell booze back then?
Where did you grow up? In many states it's illegal for grocery stores to sell liquor. Some states, such as Pennsylvania have especially anal liquor laws.
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Old 02-14-2020, 04:46 PM
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I think church keys were the promotional flash drives, pens or stress balls of their day- I seem to remember there being a lot of promotional ones around as a kid in the mid-1970s.

That's because then there were still a lot of bottled sodas and bottled beer, and stuff like Hi-C and (nasty) canned orange juice needed the pointy-end. But now, the Hi-C and orange juice come in boxes or plastic bottles, and sodas for the most part come in plastic bottles too, so church keys are something that aren't nearly as commonly used as in years gone by.

Oh, and Cochrane, some states don't let grocery stores sell hard liquor, so a moneymaking proposition has been to set up a liquor store next door to a supermarket in those states (like Texas).

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Old 02-14-2020, 05:08 PM
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Church-keys are not something people my age tend to have. Or know what they are. My husband knows what they are (I insist on keeping one on my refrigerator door) but has been arguing with me for 23 years about the name. To him and his family, it's a bottle opener. He never heard the name church-key until I told him I needed one.
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Old 02-14-2020, 05:13 PM
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Church-keys are not something people my age tend to have. Or know what they are. My husband knows what they are (I insist on keeping one on my refrigerator door) but has been arguing with me for 23 years about the name. To him and his family, it's a bottle opener. He never heard the name church-key until I told him I needed one.
When I was growing up in Wisconsin, we used "bottle opener" for the stamped-metal ones, with a pointy end and a prybar end (often with a magnet), like the first image I linked to in post #7. The term "church key" was used less often, and I only remember hearing it specifically in reference to the cast version, which was vaguely shaped like an old-fashioned key (see the second image in post #7).
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Old 02-14-2020, 05:36 PM
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six packs of canned beer used to come wrapped in cardboard: Falstaff six pack There was a church key stuck down into the middle of them. The particular six pack picture I linked to has pull tabs, but this was the best example I could find
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Old 02-14-2020, 06:29 PM
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I frequently experience defective tabs or ring pulls that come off before accomplishing their intended purpose. The can puncturer/bottle opener remains in our primary kitchen junk drawer, rather than being relegated to the secondary junk drawer.

It also has a crude but usable emergency corkscrew!
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Old 02-14-2020, 10:06 PM
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Oh, and Cochrane, some states don't let grocery stores sell hard liquor, so a moneymaking proposition has been to set up a liquor store next door to a supermarket in those states (like Texas).
Right. But that was not the point of my question to Dinsdale, though, as he asked if grocery stores sold beer, not the store next to it.
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Old 02-14-2020, 10:09 PM
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Right. But that was not the point of my question to Dinsdale, though, as he asked if grocery stores sold beer, not the store next to it.
Chicago, born in 60.
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Old 02-14-2020, 10:40 PM
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I was born in 60, so I wasn't buying such things myself, but have a vague sense that churchkeys were just the kinda thing that "turned up" rather than being bought. And they never really wore out, so you tended to amass multiple ones. I'd imagine they were handed out at liquor stores and such as promotions.
Born in '59, and yeah, they were always just sort of around. Nobody ever actually bought one, as far as I could tell. There were plenty around my home, and my grandparents' house, many with beer logos stamped on them.

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Thinking back, my mom bought the groceries and dad always made a separate trip to the liquor store. Did groceries not sell booze back then?
Same here. Separate trip to the liquor store. And grocery stores here in New York still don't sell liquor. Beer, sure, but no booze.

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Old 02-14-2020, 11:14 PM
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In those days everything was free. Every box of cereal contained something a kid could collect or play with. Omar Bread publised comics that their van drivers handed out. Trading cards came with things like cigarettes, until they figured kids would pay for the cards and throw the crappy gum in the street. Free maps at gas stations, free shue horns at shoe stores. My sister still eats with the free silverware from Betty Crocker.

When I cleared out my stuff a couple years ago, my church key said Chief Oshkosh on it.
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Old 02-14-2020, 11:39 PM
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I remember when every carton of beer cans came with a can opener, as mentioned above they never wore out so you didn't need more but you never got around to throwing them out either so you would end up with heaps of them in the kitchen junk draw
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Old 02-15-2020, 02:05 AM
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... My sister still eats with the free silverware from Betty Crocker....
All our wedding flatware is from Betty Crocker. I don't think they do that program anymore.

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To the OP: are they this kind of church key (which look to be stamped out of a flat metal plate),...
I have two of these, one with a magnet. But my fridge has panels on it, so they are both in the drawer.

Growing up we used the pointy end for cans of Hershey's syrup and sweetened condensed milk.

My grandparents had a wall-mounted Coca-Cola bottle opener mounted in the kitchen. I think they had even got that as a free give away, especially since they never actually drank Coca-Cola.

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Old 02-15-2020, 04:44 AM
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Bottle caps were easy. Just put the edge of the cap against the square edge of a table, counter, auto-part, and strike down firmly on the cap with your fist.
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Old 02-15-2020, 05:22 AM
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Churchkeys are not obsolete. Some bottle beers still require it (not all beers are twist-off) and some cans, like tomato juice, need the puncture-type.

Anyone remember the P38? One came with every Army C-Ration (MRE). GI's would put one on their dogtag chain so they'd never be without. It was as important as your rifle, but not as efficient.
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Old 02-15-2020, 11:35 AM
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I still keep P-38s and P-51s around in the bug-out kits. I think there's a FRED in one of them as well.

A quick survey of the kitchen and drawers shows more unitasker bottle openers than anything else. We must have a half-dozen of that type, advertising Salvator or Bitburger or some SF franchise.
Anybody remember these?
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Old 02-15-2020, 02:07 PM
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Church-keys are not something people my age tend to have. Or know what they are. My husband knows what they are (I insist on keeping one on my refrigerator door) but has been arguing with me for 23 years about the name. To him and his family, it's a bottle opener. He never heard the name church-key until I told him I needed one.
I first heard the term while watching “Bye Bye Birdie” on television when I was a kid.

I still wonder what the guy who unlocks the church on Sunday morning uses.
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Old 02-15-2020, 02:32 PM
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I recall giveaway bottle and can openers in the 1970s. We used them to open large cans of fruit juice. You had to make two holes to get it to pour right. I remember getting a free bottle opener whenever you ordered a pizza.
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Old 02-15-2020, 02:42 PM
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I have an old Coors one that I probably filched from one of my parents. I've had it for decades, still use it to open cans of evaporated milk. Occasionally for other things. Oh, and to remove beer caps, of course. Most of my beer preferences don't run to twist caps.

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Old 02-15-2020, 08:18 PM
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, or this kind (which seem to be cast)? (We have a few of both designs.)
Until you posted that picture, the term "church key" seemed, to me, to be a quaint anomaly of American idiom.

You could also buy can openers in any typical grocery store, and that's what you would have to do -- if you accidentally threw out the one you used in the kitchen, and if you didn't go to the beach or to picnics, didn't hang out at bottle shops or trade shows, and didn't buy tourist souvenirs,
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Old 02-15-2020, 10:39 PM
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these became the tool of choice for beer advertising.
I have one of those in 12k gold. It was a gift from my grandmother to my grandfather. It is engraved So you thought you had everything with both of their names on it.
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Old 02-15-2020, 10:45 PM
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Until you posted that picture, the term "church key" seemed, to me, to be a quaint anomaly of American idiom.
When I was in college (Madison, Wisconsin, 1980s), there was, in fact, a bar just off campus called "The Church Key." It was built in a former church, and it even had a balcony (the former choir loft).
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Old 02-16-2020, 04:21 AM
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Churchkeys are not obsolete. Some bottle beers still require it (not all beers are twist-off) and some cans, like tomato juice, need the puncture-type.
I've not seen a can needing puncturing for quite awhile but I've not bought Hollywood Ranch Market V8 lately.

Quote:
Anyone remember the P38? One came with every Army C-Ration (MRE). GI's would put one on their dogtag chain so they'd never be without. It was as important as your rifle, but not as efficient.
I whip out my keychain, actually up to four carabiners clipped together (but usually not all at once): one with home keys, one for the RV, one for the car, and one for a whistle, mini-flashlight, mini-Swiss Army Knife (for the toothpick and tweezers), Army dogtag - and a P38. Don't leave home without it. (The corkscrew and tinwhistle are in my day bag.)

In the back of my office desk I found five churchkeys I'd forgotten all about. Or maybe they're breeding. There's an old legend: wire coathangars, which always go missing, are the larval form of metal churchkeys, which appear from nowhere. Logical.
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Old 02-16-2020, 08:27 AM
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I still keep P-38s and P-51s around in the bug-out kits. I think there's a FRED in one of them as well.

A quick survey of the kitchen and drawers shows more unitasker bottle openers than anything else. We must have a half-dozen of that type, advertising Salvator or Bitburger or some SF franchise.
Anybody remember these?
I thought that is what OP was talking about. I wouldn't call the opener with a puncture tool at one end a a bottle opener at the other a "church key". It doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to an actual church key.

While we are on the subject of opening beers, why do most American craft beers require an opener? Too expensive to use twist offs?
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Old 02-16-2020, 09:39 AM
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Now that I work in the food processing industry and have had classes on food safety it almost makes me ill thinking of the pointed end can opener that we used to open cans and how nasty/gunky it would get and never bothered cleaning it. Went and looked at mine in the kitchen utensil drawer...I am running it through the dishwasher the next load, yuck!

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Old 02-16-2020, 02:45 PM
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I'm old enough to remember the time before pull tabs, but we didn't have a ton growing up because neither of my parents drank beer. I know we had one, but I don't know if it was purchased or a "gift" from someone advertising something.

But this is the type of item that I could imagine people collecting. It's borderline obsolete, cheap, and ubiquitous. So, I checked eBay for "vintage church keys" and found 446 results...with a mix of styles. There were some Pabst ones available that had the punch part mounted on a ballpoint pen. Never seen that before! The price range seems to be from around $3.00 to a max of $75 (yikes!). The most common price is around $4.00 - $5.00. For people looking for collections (I won't do it...I'm a bit OCD in that direction and could easily end up with a billion of the things), it might be a fun hobby. Also, there are all kinds of ways of displaying them that could be rather attractive. I'm thinking of those displays of antique weapons in old British castles...only with church keys/bottle openers!
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Old 02-16-2020, 10:36 PM
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When I worked in a service station after school in 1974, I gave tons of those church keys away as well as road maps. After you had run over the bell hose, I was the fellow hopping out to pump your fuel & check your oil, windscreen wipers etc.

I once bought a car that had over 200 church keys in the back seat & on the floor. The previous owner was a know "drinker". It also had at least 50 P-38s.

I carry a P-38 in my wallet & one in my watch pocket. All my rigs have at least one church key in the glove box. I am not a drinker, yet they can be handy for other uses. They all were free.

I often find them in junk boxes at yard sales or estate sales. They are usually still free. Sadly, I still will pick up a few each time. I must be a collector.
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Old 02-17-2020, 12:01 AM
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I wonder if you could intimidate somebody by saying something like “The next time you see me I’ll have my P-38 with me. Maybe that will teach you some respect.”
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Old 02-17-2020, 01:09 AM
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Originally Posted by kaylasdad99 View Post
I still wonder what the guy who unlocks the church on Sunday morning uses.
The key to the church, of course. I should know; I did that job for a while, way back when. I was the church janitor, and among my duties was opening up the church on Sunday mornings and making sure that everything was clean and ready for Sunday services.

So, I had a keyring with both the Key to the Church, and a Church Key on it.
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Old 02-17-2020, 12:27 PM
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If it is not TOO MUCh of a hijack, and since we ARE talking about keys - how about skeleton keys? Still have any? Or locks that require them?

My childhood home - Chicago bungalow, built 1927 - had a few doors that had them. Mostly interior doors. The exterior basement door had an added deadbolt. I always assumed they all used the same key, but as a kid, I never really compared them. We had a couple in drawers, and other ones hanging from nails next to the door with the lock. It has been quite a while since I last used - or even saw - one.

I wonder when they stopped making that type of key/lock?
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Old 02-17-2020, 12:41 PM
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Just opened a can of paint to touch up a small crack in my dining room. I used the Sherwin Williams supplied almost church key. One end opens bottles and the other is perfect for prying open paint cans. I got this one just over a year ago free with my paint and stir sticks.
  #47  
Old 02-17-2020, 01:08 PM
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While we are on the subject of opening beers, why do most American craft beers require an opener? Too expensive to use twist offs?
Twist-offs can air into the bottle, or so I've heard, causing the beer to get skunked. It's more of an issue for beers that are sold on quality and spend more time in the beer drinkers cellar.
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Old 02-17-2020, 01:32 PM
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Oxidized. Skunked is a result of light, not oxygen. And yes, the seals on twist-offs can be iffy over time. I wouldn't trust my 2005 Anchor Christmas ale to twist-offs.
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Old 02-18-2020, 01:47 PM
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Wait. What? You guys let beer sit around for years?! That's some real self-control, right there.
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Old 02-18-2020, 05:19 PM
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Back when I did garage sales, I'd often come across people who had boxes of promo items. Beer-related things were common. Often going for a quarter each but presumably giveaways before they became throwaways (and therefore suitable to sit on a garage sale table forever).

One item I remember seeing were caribener-style key rings in the shape of a beer bottle outline. Those interested me and were worth a quarter for the fun of it. But church keys, not so much.

There's a lot of beer company promo crap out there.
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