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Where Have All the Prices Gone?

by Mike Reilly

     I thought it would be interesting to see what has happened to tin prices over the years. Yes, I know that they've gone up, many much more than others.

     I picked up a book by Ernest L. Pettit, The Book of Collectible Tin Containers with Price Guide, that was printed in 1967. This is a period in time that many of you may recognize as the beginning of the collector craze years.

     It was around this time that many collecting fields, coins, stamps, antique bottles really took off. Clubs were being formed and books were written in almost an unending manner. Over night it seemed, the nature of collecting along with prices accelerated.

     I took a number of tobacco tins from Mr. Pettit's book and matched them up to those listed in Douglas Congdon-Martin's, Tobacco Tins - A Collector's Guide, to see how prices had changed over 30 years. One thing you realize when you compare books, any books on tin collecting, is that even specialty books covering just one subject don't contain all the information that's out there. Be sure you check as many sources as you can, you'll be pleasantly surprised, maybe a bit overwhelmed by what's available. You may also face disappointment as well.

     I'm listing the following according to the way they appear in Congdon-Martin's book.

  • Page 15 - Between the Acts Little Cigars, 1967 (50 cents to 75 cents), 1997 ($2-$25).
  • Page 18 - Bob White, 3 x 4 x 2.5, 1967 ($2-4), 1997 ($250-500).
  • Page 21 - Brotherhood Tobacco, 1967 ($4-7), 1997 ($25-50).
  • Page 21 - Buckingham, 4.75 x 3, center right, 1967 (75 cents to $1), 1997 ($25-50).
  • Page 27 - Central Union, lower right-center,4.25 x 6.75 x 4.5, 1967 ($6-8), 1997 ($2-25).
  • Page 28 - Central Union, 6 x 5.75, 1967 ($6-8), 1997 ($50-100).
  • Page 32 - Climax Golden Twins, center left (lower right of three), 1967 ($1-2), 1997 ($2-25).
  • Page 39 - J.G. Dill's Best, top right (lower right of three), 1967 ($4-6), 1997 ($2-25).
  • Page 49 - Famous Cake Box Mixture, top right (right), 1967 ($3-5), 1997 ($2-5).
  • Page 86 - Mayo's Roly Polys, typical 1967 prices were $7-15, today in 1997, $250-500.

     This is only a sample of what I found.

     You'll note for the most part that prices have indeed gone up. But there is also overlap of the 1967 and 1997 prices for some. I wouldn't expect you to find these tins very much in the lower end price range especially at antique shops but at some larger malls you may find considerable differences in prices from one dealer to another for virtually identical tins.

     You'll also notice that in Congdon-Martin's book that the price ranges are considerably greater than were in Pettit's. For any tin you collect, you can expect to find these wide price variations, and much depends on whom you buy from and where you buy. Prices vary dramatically from one area in the U.S. to another.

Tin Collecting Today

by Mike Reilly 6/18/98

     All types of tins are collected today compared to 25 years ago when the mainstay were early tobacco tins, sprinkled in with coffee, tea, and talcum powder. Yes, there were other types collected, and maybe as in ernest as these others, but they didn't receive the press coverage to early fame.

     Today, what's being collected? Well just about everything. There are still very many with tobacco interests, especially with all of the the anti-smoking campaigns. This field has really branched out: cigar boxes, lighters, ashtrays, paper advertising, and numerous premiums abound. Tobacco and smoking collectors have many more tins to collect since many items mentioned were/are sold in special limited edition tins. Lighters and playing cards in tins have been sold by a number of companies. Of particular interest has been the "Joe Camel" items. Camel brand has always been collectible, but today's collecting generation has zeroed in on "Joe". Practically anything with his likeness on it has been selling for premium prices.

     So what's different with today's collectors? Just as we collect tins that have an association with our past, so are today's collectors making the same connection. They've been exposed to anti-smoking and "safe-sex" campaigns since they were young. Haven't we as well? Sure, but our perspective, in general, is a different one. I think back about my dad making his own cigarettes with a small rolling machine to save money. I remember the many different brands of cigarette packs and cartons, along with some rum soaked Crook cigars when I smoked. If I had the inclination, I'd probably collect those old cigarette rollers, packs and cartons, and maybe the metal and plastic tubes that cigars are sold in. On the other hand, my dad might have collected pipes and other related items because of his father. My son though hates tobacco and smoking, he'd probably collect cartoon comic tins and sports related tins.

     What should you be looking for today? Much depends on whether you're collecting for pleasure or profit. If you can buy condom and Joe Camel tins at reasonable prices, then you might pick them up for short term investment, assuming you try to resell them at a profit. Otherwise, today's high prices will take a long time to recover any investment.

     Any of the tried and true collectible tobacco, coffee, and drugstore tins will continue to see value increases. Maybe not like yesteryear, but they should do better than inflation. Avoid the common brands and those tins in poorer grades.

     Some of today's limited edition advertising tins have potential for profit, but beware - so many are out there in MINT condition that collecting anything in less condition probably isn't worth an investment. If buying these, chose those that are MINT in BOX (MIB) or MINT in PACKAGE (MIP), preferably with the original contents, also in MINT condition. Be careful with tins that contain perishable food; you may end up with a stinker, in more ways than one.

     Do you collect liquor tins with full bottles in them? Take note that in a fire, they (the bottles) may explode. This happened to a couple of collectors of Jim Beam type ceramic/porcelain bottles and their insurance companies didn't want to pay on their claims.

     Tins that have cross over appeal are likely to increase more because of the added attention. Zippo lighter tins, Fossil watch tins, Budweiser stein tins, sports card tins, and most NASCAR related tins are good bets.

     What's your pleasure? It could be anything. Whatever you choose should mean something to you otherwise you're just stockpiling metal boxes. Have fun with your collection. Show them off in various displays. They should become part of your household decor (despite what your spouse says).

     You could start a collection of tins that no one else is interested in or where interest appears to be low. This way there is less competition. This may be difficult to do, but you'll find something. I did this with bandaid tins and now have over a 165 different ones. I also branched out with adhesive tape tins, medical, home, and industrial, and now have over 100 of them. Most of the time, gotten at very reasonable prices.

     Whatever tins you collect, enjoy that collection, and if you can, share the experience with others.

If any reader has additional information regarding this subject, please write to: ChipTin

Tin Piracy or Early Recycling?

by Mike Reilly

Back in the last century when bottles were made of pottery (later glass), brewing companies and soda water businesses often times found it difficult to keep an adequate supply of them to bottle their products.

Many of these earlier bottles were rather generic in appearance; advertising the company's name using embossing or paper labels was slow in coming. A number of enterprising businesses and individuals found that it was cheaper to use some other company's bottles as their own.

It got so bad at times that some brewers offered rewards leading to the return of their property. For the most part, the big brewing companies often cooperated in returning bottles and barrels back to their rightful owners.

But not always. It wasn't unheard of that a certain brewer or soda water manufacturer would purposely hoard his competitor's bottles to create distribution problem for the rival company.

What has this got to do with tins you ask?

Well I've found evidence of two different snack food companies that once existed in Wisconsin that used another company's tins for their own use.

First, let me say that I don't believe that there were any malicious intentions going on here. I think it was simply a matter of economics in times of tin shortages.

My discovery came unexpectantly one day early this year while visiting an antique mall in Kewaskum, WI. I was on the second floor nearly done looking when an old, rather battered Quinlan's Buttered Pretzels tin beckoned to me from under large wicker basket. Many of you have probably seen this blue tin with a farmer boy holding a basket (coincidence ?) on it. This tin was the larger 6 lb variety.

I picked it up and saw a $24.50 price tag. Now normally a Quinlan's tin runs for some good money in much better condition, but even at this price, it didn't seem worthwhile to buy it as an example. I started to set it back down to its final resting place when I noticed something stuck to the backside.

A somewhat dirty white paper label measuring 4" x 4" was firmly attached. In black lettering, it read "Biff Bang Pop Corn / S and S Sales Service / 12 - 1 lb packages / Milwaukee, WI.

All of a sudden that $24.50 price tag seemed insignificant (I did get it for $20).

"S and S Sales Service" was a snack company that I had not come across while researching other Milwaukee companies. So far I haven't located them in the old Milwaukee city directories but from the label's style, I would guess 1940's (?). The company didn't sell the "ready-to-eat" variety popcorn that I collect, but the kernels you popped yourself. Also, I don't believe this company sold to retail customers, probably to other retail shops or food businesses (taverns?).

Anyway this was the first example I found of one company using another company's tins. And a pretty blatant use it was too. The tin was probably returned to "S and S" after use by their customer though nothing on the label suggests it.

My second encounter came just recently. On our way to an Eagle River, WI. family reunion, we stopped at an antique mall in Wausau off Highway 51. There, again sitting obscurely in a corner booth was a "Rold Gold Butter Pretzel" (6 lb ?) tin. The manufacturer was the "American Cone & Pretzel Co.". The mostly red/wh/blue paper face label (I call labels that are just attached to the front of a tin rather than encircling the tin a "face label". Is there a more appropriate term to use?) was dirty and stained but it has a cute elephant with a pretzel body holding a pennant in its trunk (an early trademark of the company). Priced $22.50 wasn't too bad to pay for something I hadn't seen before, besides I was going to ask for 10% off.

As I backed out of the booth I noticed some lettering done in black ink stenciling on the lid. "ACE" was the word. Turning the tin around, I found the stenciled name "ACE POPCORN & PRETZEL" near the bottom.

"Ace Popcorn & Pretzel Co." did business in Milwaukee, WI. from approximately 1953 thru 1957. They had their own (?) tins with at least two different varieties of paper face labels that I've been able to find. This was another company that only did business with the service sector. Their paper labels indicate they sold popcorn, potato chip and pretzels and that the tins were returned to the company for reuse. They didn't make their own product but bought it wholesale from such companies as "Geiser's" and resold it.

This original tin was obviously from a much earlier time period (Can any reader match that elephant trademark usage with a date or time period?), how it survived to be used by ACE much later on is anyone's guess. But here is additional evidence that at least two Wisconsin companies resorted to using someone else's tins to market their product, at least to store and transport it. I don't believe that any company dared putting their product on grocery shelves in this manner.

Paper labels on tins were rather easily removed and a common business practice for those companies that reused their own tins was to simply replace the label with another after being sanitized.

How many snack food tins are out there with a label that didn't originally begin there? Was there a market for "used" tins collected by junk/scrap dealers?

There were thriving businesses that did exactly that with bottles around the turn of the century. Why not with tins?

If any reader has additional information regarding this subject, please write to: ChipTin


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