Pushing Tin: How germs created today’s hot collectibles.

It all began with the idea of cleanliness.

Prior to Louis Pasteur’s breakthrough discovery that germs caused disease, most people weren’t too concerned about cleanliness and sanitation.

But once people bought into the connection between dirty hands and food, they no longer liked the idea of raw foods and vegetables sitting in store bins all day long, with less-than-clean hands picking over them. And food manufacturers responded with “sanitary packaging.”

The tin package was born.

Patterson’s Seal Cut Plug Tobacco Tin, 1930s. Photo courtesy of Red Raven Collectibles, Etsy

Patterson’s Seal Cut Plug Tobacco Tin, 1930s. Photo courtesy of Red Raven Collectibles, Etsy

The ability to stamp tin into uniform sheets was introduced around 1875, and by 1895, tins were able to reflect lithographic designs instead of requiring paper labels. Soon, everything from coffee and tea bags to tobacco, soap flakes, candy and cookies were being sold in tins that reflected the Art Nouveau and Art Deco designs of the times.

Hinged Dancing Nymphs Globe Soap Tin, 1920s

Hinged Dancing Nymphs Globe Soap Tin, 1920s

Today, tins can be a wonderful way to recall history – and provide colorful and creative storage opportunities, as well.

What’s hot.
Serious collectors tend to concentrate on advertising, country store or tobacco tins – placing them out of range of the casual collector. Two “Yankee Boy” tobacco tins, for example, sold for $1600 in 2005. If you have one, don’t part with it lightly!

Original Roly Poly tobacco tins are extremely scarce, and can cost as much as $1800! Even the reproductions, made by New Jersey’s Chein Industries in the 1980s, have become collectible. But you can find them for about $30 – making them a great way to start your own collection. (Chein Industries made some of the best, which carry their logo.)

Tins were also used to advertise the products inside. Tea bags, for example, were commonly sold in hinged tin boxes – which can be used for the same purpose today.

Lipton Tea Bag tin, circa 1915

Lipton Tea Bag tin, circa 1915

Tins can reflect your personal interests, hobbies and decor.
Collecting antique and vintage tins can be a great way to expand your love for history, geography, gardening, or just about any theme you can imagine. You can hunt for affordable tins that celebrate:
American history
– Asian themes
– Travel
– Flowers
– The sea
– Animals
– Holidays
Some vintage tins were made to look like something else, such as buses, trains and wagons. And others were meant to be tossed away, such as tins for spices, bandages, tooth powder and more.

Where to find tins
Naturally, you can purchase them online, at auction houses and antique stores. Since tins were often reused, most of them are not in mint condition. That’s OK – but tins with less wear will naturally cost more.
Other places to search are thrift stores and yard sales, where you may be able to pick up a nice vintage item for pennies.

What should you do with your tins?
Naturally, you can simply group and display them. But you can also use them to store items you don’t use often, such as other small collectibles, once-a-year accessories, sewing notions and the like. In this way, your tins will serve a multiple purpose without being subject to daily wear and tear.

1980s Chein Industries Bristol Ware tin

1980s Chein Industries Bristol Ware tin

Start with known names.
If you’re a beginning collector, or if you have old tins in your family, you’ll want to learn more about how to evaluate and value them.

Tins made by known manufacturers, such as the 1920s Tindeco (the Tin Decorating Company of Baltimore) and Canco (American Can Company) are often collected. And Chein Industries, who produced quality reproduction Roly-Poly tins, also created lovely Bristol Ware tins that are somewhat valuable.

Enjoy the hunt!

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About sarathurston

I'm a marketing communications writer who also loves antiques and collectibles. You can find my shop on Etsy at http://www.etsy.com/shop/JanvierRoad
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