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Collector Alert: Coffee tin collectors know the difficulty of finding tins with original lids. Many valuable tins are found without them which greatly reduces their selling prices. Now it is learned that a couple of unscrupulous individuals are painting lids to closely match the tin body. This is not the everyday touch-up, but a deliberate attempt to deceive the collector. 

If you're buying more expensive tins, carefully examine the lid for any indication that it may have been altered. It's not known to what length the alteration is going to, i.e. they may scuff, dirty, scratch their new paint finish to look more convincing.

cof*fee (noun): often attributive; [Italian & Turkish; Italian caffe, from Turkish kahve, from Arabic qahwa]; First appeared 1598. A beverage made by percolation, infusion, or decoction from the roasted and ground seeds of a coffee plant.

Turkish Proverb

"Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and as sweet as love."

About Coffee

     The coffee tree is first thought to be discovered  (before 1,000 A.D.) by the Ethiopian tribe, the Galla, who found extra energy by eating the ground berries with animal fat. The tree is native to Ethiopia and was later carried by Arab traders, around 1,000 A.D., back to their countries where it was first cultivated. There the beans are boiled  and crushed in a syrupy drink called "gahua". It was said that monks began to eat the berries to help keep themselves awake through long nights of prayer.

     Circa 1300 A.D. coffee started to resemble the beverage of today - a watery extraction from boiling the roasted beans.

     Around 1453 A.D., the Ottoman Turks bring coffee to Constantinople, the home of the world's first coffee shop, called Kiva Han, in 1475. Interesting is the Turkish law that allowed a woman to divorce her husband if he failed to provide her with a daily ration of coffee.

     Until the 17th century all of the coffee trade came from Arabia, then slowly, through the efforts of Dutch traders, the cultivation of coffee trees spread to the East Indies. Later it was carried from France to the West Indies spreading to South America with Brazil growing it in 1729.

     Despite coffee's origins in Ethiopia, Africa didn't become a major coffee producer until after World War II. 

     In our country, soldiers were served coffee bean rations during the Civil War. From their wartime experiences, these soldier's requests for coffee, after the war ended, pushed the development of the coffee industry.

     In 1878, Chase & Sanborn became the first company to pack and seal roasted coffee in one and two pound tins. This was done to preserve the coffee's flavor and prolong its shelf life.  The coffee was sold under the brand names "Chase & Sanborn Seal Brand" and "Crusade Coffee". 

     Edwin Norton received a patent for a machine that would package foods by a vacuum process in 1898. Hills Brothers quickly put Norton's idea to use, realizing that coffee packed in such a manner would retain its freshness much longer. They became the first company in 1903 to vacuum-pack their coffee products. Later the David G. Evans Coffee Company, St. Louis, MO., began selling some of its brands in vacuum-sealed glass jars.

     Coffee manufacturers and distributors soon found that they could sell their products in much greater quantities if the coffee was packaged in ornate tins or canisters. The more elaborate and colorful they were, the more the customer bought. The customer many times used the empty tins for other purposes, such as a canister set for storing flour and sugar in the kitchen. For the house wife to complete a matching set, she had to buy more coffee.

     After the Pure Food & Drugs Act in 1906, much of the improper or misleading advertising that was occurring in the coffee industry, as well as others, was eliminated. Such words as "JAVA" and "MOCHA" saw a decline in usage.


    Before coffee tins came along and after their development, many other advertising items were used by manufacturers and distributors to help market their products. Such pieces could be grinders, mills, cardboard and porcelain signs, cloth and paper bags/sacks, wooden boxes/crates,  larger store bins, measuring spoons/scoops, coffee cups and mugs, serving trays, trade cards, and magazine/newspaper ads.

    The collector can even accumulate things like coffee makers, coffee bean roasters, vending machines,  and the newer espresso / cappuccino machines. How about radio and television commercials?

Coffee Tins

by John H. LoBosco

     I started collecting antique advertising memorabilia about seven years ago. At that time I had no idea that the few items I was about to purchase would get me so deeply involved in something that has since become a passion - collecting old coffee containers and other coffee related memorabilia.

     When I began collecting I worked for the Nestle Company. In looking for some old Nestle advertising pieces to display in my office, I found a few coffee tins and some neat cardboard advertising signs. From that point on there was no turning back. I began going to all of the local antique shows, flea markets, yard sales,  and auctions. At first I collected only Nestle advertising and then broadened my horizons to all types of antique advertising memorabilia, including tin and cardboard containers and signs, as well as paper advertising. I bought anything that I could afford (as well as things that I couldn't afford).

     In addition to my office, I began displaying tins in my kitchen. I quickly ran out of room and from the kitchen the collection progressed to the attic until someone alerted me to the potential damage that the extreme attic temperature swings could inflict on older tins. So out of the attic and into closets they went. Fortunately I now have a home with a very large basement where I can display and enjoy my entire collection, which now consists of approximately 500 tins, 400 of which are coffee tins.

     In the last year or two I began to focus primarily on coffee memorabilia. My main interest now is the multicolored, lithographed, one pound "Tall Coffee Tin" produced from the early 1900's through the early 1930's.

     Today coffee tins are highly collectible. In fact, they have become one of the most sought after types of antiques advertising collectibles, second only to tobacco tins. Although we call them tins, these containers were not made entirely of tin but were originally made from tinplated sheets of iron. Later the iron was replaced by steel. It is estimated that around two thousand different examples of coffee tins were produced over the years, with countless millions sold. However, despite the large number of tins manufactured, only a very small percentage have survived. Of those that did, many of the more desirable ones have become almost impossible to find due to the many collectors competing for them. This scarcity and popularity has caused prices to soar dramatically in recent years. For example, I now sometimes pay several hundred dollars for coffee tins that cost less than fifty dollars when I started collecting.

     By way of background, companies began selling coffee in tin containers as long ago as the early 1800's, when most people bought fresh green coffee beans and did their own roasting and grinding at home. Packaged roasted coffee did not become popular until the late 1880's.

     Over the years, coffee containers were produced in many shapes and sizes. One could buy coffee in boxes and pails with metal handles. Containers were square, cylindrical, rectangular, and trapezoid shaped. They also came in many different sizes, from one ounce sample tins to large bins holding more than fifty pounds of coffee. In addition to tinplate, some containers were made of cardboard and some had paper labels over tin. A variety of lids were also used. The earlier tins had lids with hinges or lids that could be pulled off. Later tins were made with pry lids, slip lids, and lids that could be screwed on and off. Finally, keys were used to remove the lids.

     Graphics and colors evolved from plain early tins that sometimes had paper or stenciled labels to tins produced using a two colored tintype process. Here, black was usually the dominant color and was used with green, red, blue or yellow. By 1914, a new technology called chromolithography allowed for the mass production of magnificent multi-colored tins with stunning graphics. Today many of these tins are considered works of art, some having great historical significance.

     As coffee companies experimented with different ways of attracting customers, they realized that they could sell more coffee by producing reusable tin containers with beautiful graphics. In fact, the more lavish and magnificent the tin, the more coffee would be sold. Not only was this a very inexpensive form of advertising, but it also increased the likelihood that the tin would be saved and reused for some other purpose. Tins were often reused for storing any number of household items, such as nails, buttons or even some other food product. These tins also made wonderful display pieces. This helps to explain why some tins survived for generations to ultimately end up in somebody's collection.

     Lucky for collectors like myself, tins can still be found at the many shows and auctions held all overt he country. Occasionally I uncover a great find at a flea market but lately this is becoming a rare occurrence. Antiques and collectibles shows are still a good venue for finding tins. However, a really terrific place to find coffee tins and other high quality antique advertising is the Indianapolis Antique Advertising Show. This is a national show with a twenty five year track record, held three times a year at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. It's one of my favorite shows with more than one hundred dealers coming from 38 states selling rare, quality advertising memorabilia. For more information I suggest you contact the promoter, Kim Kokles at (214) 240-1987.

     Another great place to find wonderful tins is the annual convention of the Antique Advertising Association of America (A.A.A.A.). They publish an outstanding newsletter and are always happy to welcome new members. The annual conventions are held in different cities around the country giving members an opportunity to share their knowledge and buy, sell or trade their treasures with each other. Some really great prices are always available. For membership, write to AAAA, P.O. Box 1121, Morton Grove, IL., 60053.

     The value of a particular tin is contingent upon many elements and can vary greatly. Rarity, age, and condition are the most important. A collector can pay anywhere from less than a dollar to many thousands of dollars for a tin. A very rare, old tin, in mint or near mint condition can fetch thousands, while the same tin in poor condition may only be worth a few dollars. Although I may occasionally buy a tin in questionable condition to introduce something new into my collection, I'd rather stick to quality. The more elaborate lithographed one pound "Tall Coffee Tins: range in price from $150 to more than $1,000, while those with plain lettering will generally sell from $75 to $150. Keywinds ca still be found for under $25 but the ones with really great graphics can easily fetch more than $100.

     In grading tins, I use a numbered grading system that many other collectors have adopted, with grades running from 1 - 10 (10 - mint, 9.5 - near mint, 9 - outstanding, 8.5 - excellent plus... 6 - poor, etc.). I generally will not buy anything less than an 8. A grade 8 is excellent and the tin should be free from dents, fading, or rust. I would not recommend anything below an 8, for collectors who intend to someday resell the tin.

     There are many price guides available which may be useful for new collectors but, since prices are constantly changing, I only use them to get a general idea of value.

     Who would have guessed a hundred years ago that some of these tins would be worth their weight in gold today? I wonder what we are now throwing in the trash that someday may sit on our grandchildren's shelves as prized and valuable treasures.

I worked for this company in the restaurant division from 1965 until in 1973-1974 when the Canadian company of Stuarts Branded Foods, dba "Weschler Foods" & "Goodhost Foods" bought out the restaurant division I was a part of.  Crescent Foods (as it was called) was as I was told, the original coffee roaster on the U.S. west coast in Seattle Washington.  This was closed when the Canadian company took it over.  There was a very large vault in the basement that had many historical artifacts that would be priceless today. 
A Marshall Weiss(sp?) was the coffee blender.  He was a very large man and his blending was done over a very large round marble table that was like a lazy-susan.  A coffee pot of hot water was in the middle.  Also in the middle were containers of various coffee beans, some ground, some to be ground with a pistil(?).  The outside edge of the table was lined with heavy-based 4oz clear glasses for tasting.  Below the table was a brass spittoon(?)
Crescent's corporate office and spice production was on Dearborn Street and coffee and nut roasting was done on 1st Avenue.  A 3rd location for distribution was done in the mid 70's.  I'm told Schilling Spices has since taken over the company.
R. McLaughlin
e-mail: [email protected]
p.s.  I still have 8 of those 4oz coffee tasting glasses but have no idea of their value.


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