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This next article Judith advised me not to reprint because several items are out-dated now (it was originally written in 1992). But after reading it, I found so many things that would be of interest to collectors that I felt it appropriate to reprint. Just be aware that as time passes, so does information and some of this may not be relevant today. Perhaps Judith will offer us a more updated version at another time. this article was originally accompanied by various illustrations which are not available at this time.


by Judith Neuman

     Tin boxes and cans are everywhere. They're so common that we rarely notice them, and we often toss them out unless something special draws us to them. Occasionally that happens, and after a while you have a few tins sitting on a shelf. One or two more and suddenly you have a small collection--you've been bitten by the tin bug! Some of us are attracted by their graphics, some by their subject matter, others by their design. Among the most desirable are figural tins-- tins that are shaped and printed to look like something else. Because they are a miniature representation of a real object they stand out more than a simple illustration. Among these, wheeled tins are popular because, being toylike, they bring back memories of our childhood.

     Perhaps the combination of usefulness and decorative quality is the reason so many succumb to the charm of tin boxes. They serve a dual purpose. Not only are they pleasing to look at, but the tight fitting lid keeps things fresh.

     In addition, tin takes color and detail like few other materials. Although an interesting design can catch the eye, it is enhanced by the depth of color achievable by the photolithographic process on tin. And, because tinplate is a malleable material, it can be molded into various shapes. Many tins are in the shape of a house, others resemble an automobile or bus. Even round tins, with the help of a clever illustrator, can look like a person.Unfortunately, unusual configurations call for additional labor, thus increasing the cost. Most tins made in this country are round with a flat top because this is a simple shape that can be made completely by machine. A few U.S. manufacturers have machinery that can fabricate square boxes with flat tops, but the more complex shapes have been made either in England or Hong Kong.

    England was the home of the tin box industry when it was at its zenith between the two World Wars. Some of the ingenious shapes made then are no longer possible today, even if the old molds were available. The additional labor required for those shapes makes them too costly for today's price competitive market. Although it is satisfying to know that machinery cannot always replace the human hand, it is depressing to realize that we can no longer afford the fun and charm represented by the tin boxes of that era.

     However, rather than mourn the past, we should take advantage of the present. Since mid-century, designers and manufacturers have presented us with a world of wit and imagination, even if it is housed in more limited configurations. Although older figural tins are very desirable, they are also expensive and hard to come by. Even when you find them, their cost limits their use to decoration rather than a knock about kitchen container. A contemporary tin, which often can be purchased for between five and ten dollars, can fill practical purposes too. Still, it is wise to exercise reasonable care with your newer tins as they are certain to be antiques of tomorrow. Although it's amazing how hardy these little boxes are, keep them dry to prevent rust and out of direct sunlight to prevent fading. If you move, wrap each separately to prevent scratching in transit.

     Since the 1920's TRANSPORT has figured strongly in tin box design. As this moving theme is still popular, autos, buses, trams, trucks, and wagons are well represented present day tins. The most eye-catching of the conveyances have real wheels, while on the others the wheels are part of the flat illustration.

    Some tins were designed as packaging for gourmet items such as candies and teas. Once the original contents had been used, the most interesting packages were used to hold other things, often reminding the owner of their first purpose. Such long term advertising is a good investment for the manufacturer. Some clever promoters even sold their product in a series of related designs hoping the customer would purchase the complete set. The four piece Cadbury Circus is a lovely example of this, as well as the Carlectables, even though the latter do not advertise a specific product.

     Many of these tins mirror our times, as shown by the cars mentioned above, the character of whose occupants is so succinctly rendered. This group includes a police car, taxi, chauffeured limousine, and several family cars. With shallow bodies, the Volkswagen Bug and the sleek Porsche Speedster are designed for items like pencils.

     The San Francisco Streetcar, Fire Truck, Popcorn Wagon and Lupins Flower Truck with its unusual balloon tires and two box construction, are other examples of contemporary subject matter. The only airborne vehicles in this collection are the Ski Gondola and the plastic nosed Space Rocket which is a model of tongue-in-cheek humor.

    Though other tins are historic in subject matter, they also tell a story. Illustrated in cartoon style is the Stage Coach with Cowboys and Indians in full battle. The Gypsy Caravan and the open air Touring Car both recall other times.

     Strictly for fun are the Super Tour Bus, Dolly's Tea Van, the children's Ice Cream truck, and the Bear Express, which was once filled with Gummy Bears. A holiday theme is obvious in the Antlerville Trolley's North Pole Express and the wagon filled with Christmas toys.

     The power of advertising combined with a tin box is shown in the double-decker London Bus. Huntley & Palmer, English cookie manufacturers, have been packaging their goods in printed tin containers since the end of the 19th century when the technology for printing on tin made great advances. By the early part of the 20th century, multicolored printing had become commonplace and other companies quickly saw the commercial advantages of the eye-catching tin containers. McVitie packaged their Smarties in an octagonal truck. Bentley's Candies is represented by a 1930's London Taxi and a Double-decker Bus. An oval Tram, with a slot in the top for later use as a bank, touts three different products.

     Although not as common as in England, U.S. companies have also used figural transport tins as packaging. Chicago's Marshall Field and Co. packed their famous Frango Mints in a replica of their delivery truck. Fannie Farmer's Candies and Allied Van Lines have used the same shape and design with their own logo and colors. The Federal Express van is smaller but similar. These last three examples and the Porsche Speedster are the only tins without people in them and lack the spark that human interest gives most of the others.

     The largest of the designs in this collection is a Municipal Tramway, "Last Service, Tram to Depot", 3.75 x 10 x 7"H, showing the depth of color than can be attained with photolithography at its very best. The smallest is the Clean Machine car, driven by a robot and enclosing a mini-bar of soap. Only 1.5 x 2.5 x .75"H, this is what they mean when they say good things come in small packages. The truth is, with many tin boxes, that good things come in all sizes, all styles and subject matter. And no doubt, just around the corner, there'll be a new find that will attract me just like a magnet to tinplated steel. We're on the go again!

     Manufacturers mentioned here include, but are not limited to, Ian Logan, Metal Box and Silver Crane Co. of Great Britain; Enesco, Keller Charles, Hallmark and Tinscapes of the U.S.

Some Figural Tea Tins

by [email protected]  (Judith Neuman)

     Saw your chapter on Tea tins and since you asked for additions to it, thought I'd throw in a few figural tins for tea. Actually, the first tin I ever purchased was filled with Swee-Touch-Nee tea in the early '60's.

     Their loose teas are packed in a tea chest which is red and gold with black printing. This was a hump-backed chest and unlike the tins that are made today, the lid had a sharp edge, not a rolled edge.

     The next Swee-Touch-Nee I purchased had a flat lid (for easier stacking on the store shelves) and the edge was rolled. This came out in 1972. But at a garage sale a few years ago I came across a real oldie, a pre-1914 humpback with cyrillic lettering for the name. I wrote to the company, now part of Consolidated Tea Co., and was told that the name is a transliteration of the Russian words for flowery. The original lettering on the package was in the Russian alphabet, but that this was changed prior to World War I. Needless to say it was not in perfect condition, but neither would we be after all that time.

     In 1987 I found an octagonal Harbor Tea House from Oxbridge Products of Oxford England, packaging for traditional English breakfast tea. Then there is the Tea Centre of Stockholm which contained Soderblandning Tea, no doubt a popular Swedish brand, which I found about 1990. Not to be outdone, the Irish Blarney's Tea put their product in Blarney's Castle, purchased 1995.

     And just this past year I found a wonderful elephant used by the English firm of Williamson & Magor for their Indian tea. The animal is red with black and gold details as well as embossing.



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