POTATO CHIP TINS
Introduction to this chapter
from Mike Reilly 8/5/98
Hello, I've been collecting snack food tins for the last several years. After getting internet access, I found other collectors with similar interests. In general these collectors wanted to learn more about the extent of their collecting activities as well as of others. I also found that every book written about tins covers this kind of collecting in but a superficial manner.
Like their cousin the beer can, PTins (potato chip/pretzel/popcorn tins) had one, two or three faces. Cans from the 1930's on into the '40's usually had the label on only one side and most of them had dull surface finishes. The back space was used for manufacturer information, slogans, trademarks, and nutritional information about the product. Some manufacturers such as Waulter's used four faces or panels, each face depicting a different advertising aspect.
Another similarity for some companies was the use of lid labeling. This enabled a company to package product varieties in the same tins with only the lid label to identify whether it contained regular, cheese, or bar-be-que types. Charles Chips employed this with their products.
As of yet, I haven't heard of the practice of over-painting labels. This was done with beer and other product cans to "recycle" over-runs, cancelled orders, etc..
Many of these type tins were reused by the manufacturer. They were returned to the plant where sanitized. If they weren't properly dried, rust quickly formed on the inside surface and outside bottom edge. This extra handling also shortened the tins useful life.
Paper labels were often removed and the tin reused for the storage of other household goods such as flour, beans, etc. Others were used to store sewing items like threads and yarns. Many times the lid was fitted with a knob to ease the tin opening, others had the lid slotted for use as a bank.
Abrasion marks are very commonly found on the tin body from the lid removal.
Various companies destroyed their recycled tins when they were no longer fit for consumer use or when the decision was made to eliminate the tin packaging concept completely.
From early delivery truck photos, it's apparent that the tins were often stacked on top of one another without dividers between stacks, The tins were most likely handled in a rough fashion.
There were also rare events that caused the elimination of certain tin examples, such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent near failure of Mrs. Japp's Potato Chips.
Certain other tins may also be in short supply due to the buy-out of the company. There are some brands that have several variations in their pictures/graphics/wording. Examples are NEW ERA and CHARLES CHIPS, but these two brand names are definitely NOT in the scare category.
Tins that were only used by commercial suppliers or distributors are again in short supply and were subject to rough use. Often they just had paper labels glued to them.
During the phase-out of Geiser's lithograph popcorn tins, they were temporarily replaced with plain yellow (some with black lids) ones that had a simple product label cellophane taped to them.
Issley - Brooklyn, NY, c. 1865-1901.
Ginna - New York, NY, originated in the 1870's.
Norton Bros. - Illinois, c. 1879-1901.
Somers Bros. - Brooklyn, NY, late 1870s (as early as 1869) - 1901.
Hasker & Marcuse - Richmond, Virginia, 1891-1901.
American Can Co. - Formed in 1901 from over 100 tin manufacturers
Continental Can Company - began early 1900's, three large C's indicated around 1950 while three smaller C's are early 1950's on. Up to the late 1960's the cans were soldered, then welded.
National Can Company - "National" appears in an outlined map of U.S. indicate 1950's on, while "Patents Pending National Can" are pre-early 1940's.
Pacific Can Company - "Pacific Can", late 1930's to 1955 when they merged with National Can Co.
Cans Inc. - "Cans Inc." early 1950's. They merged with National in 1953.
Heekin Can - started in 1901(was a div. of Diamond International) - "H" in a small circle, 1960's. Purchased by Ball Corporation in March 1993.
Tindeco - formed around early 1900's.
Reynolds Aluminum - "R" or others from 1963 on.
Zip Codes - The Zip Code was introduced in 1963 and can be found on many tins manufactured since then in the company's address.
UPC (Universal Product Code) Label - Started in 1973 and found as a paper label addition or part of the lithograph.
1960's - Long used 3-piece soldered steel cans being replaced by aluminum or tin-free steel (TFS). Can making techniques introduced - drawn and ironed or cemented seams.
1966 - American Can introduces an adhesive or cemented bond for the the can seam under the trade mark "Mira-Seam".
Late-1960's: Continental Can comes out with a solderless can under the name "Conoweld".
Both types eliminated the rough, wide, soldered seam panel, thus permitting lithography almost completely around the can.
Cans made in the 1930's and 40's were substantial in construction and relatively heavy. They were given thick label coatings, more than was later found necessary to maintain a good appearance. Older cans found may be in better condition because of this construction and paint finish.
National Can used "National Can" in U.S. outline from 1950's to 1974.
Cans Inc. began in the 1950's.
CANCO refers to the American Can Co.
A 3/3/4 oz (beer) can cost 2 1/2 cents in 1935, while in the 1970's, a 1 oz can cost 8-10 cents.
Straight soldered, no notches in seam were used from 1930's until late 1950's. Some late 1950's had three evenly spaced alignment notches.
Telephone numbers on tins also give an idea of their age. In the Milwaukee area the old LIberty, LIncoln, BRoadway telephone numbers with five digits began about about 1954/55. Around 1962, rural communities around the cities of Milwaukee and Waukesha began using the full seven digit numbering system, The city of Waukesha finally switched over entirely in 1965. Up to the early 1950's the telephone companies used two to four digit numbers, sometimes with a hyphenated letter suffix.
For collectors of potato chip tins the following information will also help determine the manufactured time period.
In the mid-30's a loosely knit Ohio potato chip association was formed, later more formally the Ohio Potato Chip Association.
During 1937, from this original group, the Potato Chip Institute (PCI) was formed. They ordered a million paper labels, with a 1937 copyright, that was applied to the various packaging used at the time. The slogan "King Of Potato Chips" and the familiar crown was also imprinted on it. As more members were added, the group changed it's name to the National Potato Chip Institute in 1938.
It wasn't until 1959 that it was again changed, this time to the Potato Chip Institute International. Reasons being that the international market had been rapidly developing, the Canadians formed their own Canadian Potato Chip Association on July 11, 1946 and by 1956 the NPCI had nine international members.
To reflect the growing changes in the snack food industry the group once again changed its name, to reflect the times, becoming the Potato Chip/Snack Food Association (PC/SFA) in 1976. Eventually in 1986 after moving into new headquarters, the group dropped the PC and formally became the Snack Food Association.
These snack food tins came in a variety of sizes and colors. Some early ones only had a paper "face" label applied to the front, others "wrap around" paper labels. The best are the enamel painted labels. Some of them were only painted "face", though most covered the entire tin can and its lid. There are variations that in both paper and painted labels and it's a challenge to find them all. One collector in Iowa has over 230 diff potato chips tins alone. One word of caution, you need a lot of room to store a collection like this.
Most commonly collected are the 1 lb (16 ounce) and smaller size tins. While some of the two and three pound tins might be as attractive or interesting as their smaller versions, size plays the most important element in collecting potato chip tins. Few collectors have the available space necessary to display and store any sizable collection. With an average size of approx 7 1/2" dia. x 9" tall, shelf space is quickly gobbled up.
Though not as desirable to the collector, the larger size tins may be rarer. Several factors contribute to this. One, the larger tins were used for commercial accounts, such as taverns. Because commercial accounts were generally fewer than retail sales (potato chips sold in grocery stores to customers), there were fewer tins made. The tin was delivered to the establishment by a company salesman or independent sales representative. The tavern or restaurant owner would then dish out servings from the tin container. The tin's appearance was not something of importance to these commercial users, so they were roughly handled and stored. Later, the empty tin(s) were picked up and returned to the company for sanitizing, then refilled with chips. All of this abuse greatly reduced the tin's useful life.
Because of the tin's cost, many companies required deposits on them, just like that on glass milk, beer, and soda bottles. The amounts varied and could usually be found printed on the tin's body, as part of the lithographing, stenciled or stamped, or on a paper sticker. Sometimes tins are found with several layers of stickers attached, revealing increases in the deposit amount. Few commercial customers saved the tins because of the deposits they paid on them, opting rather to have their money returned.
Between wearing out and changes in packaging, these tins became quick junk pile victims or turned into mop or paint buckets. During the war years, especially WWII, and periods of early environmental concerns about recycling, these large tins were quickly sent to the scrap heap.
Besides the potato chip companies selling directly to commercial accounts, other commercial distributorships sold to the food service industry. A company like Ace Popcorn & Pretzel Co. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin sold snack foods, in their own tins. These tins were usually stenciled or paper labeled. They were sent to a potato chip manufacturer, like Geiser's, for filling then distributed to their own customer accounts.
Most of these distributor tins are quite rare. Even harder to find are those that one company had pirated. That is, they used another company's tins for their own use. This was done by applying a paper label or stenciling on the tin's lid or body.
As a collector, consider adding a couple of these larger tins to your collection. They can sit on the floor, stored/displayed under a table or wall shelf. If they're clean and rust free, consider storing other items in them, but limit the lid removal to lessen abrasion marks.
Sure signs of a tin's usage are the abrasion marks left from removing its' lid, and while on this subject, consider this. Be sure your tin has the' original lid with it. This isn't easy to know because it may have been sold with a different color lid in the first place. A number of companies did this, and they can be interchangeable, especially if the tin manufacturer was the same one. Knowledge is your best defense here; getting a look at more than one example proves helpful. Potato chip manufacturers may have supplied a variety of lids with their products because of available supplies drying up, or the original lid may have been damaged or lost. The best bets for original lids are those that are lithographed with the brand name or other evidence, but be careful here too. A Charles' Cookie tin was recently offered, as being rare, for auction with a lid advertising the company's pretzels. This was most likely a case of lid switching and shouldn't be considered rare by any means.
Like other categories of tin collecting, those products from national brands are less likely to be as valuable as your regional and local ones. Though just because a national brand may have produced more tins doesn't mean there aren't some very valuable tins to collect. Examples are found from such companies as Jay's, Kuehmann's, Planter's, and Humpty Dumpty.
Before the Jay's brand name, the company, Select Foods, Inc., sold potato chips under the brand name, Mrs. Japp's. Unfortunately for the business, the Japanese saw fit to bomb Pearl Harbor soon after it began marketing them. Anti-Japanese war sentiment nearly bankrupted the company if it hadn't switched names to the much more acceptable, Jay's. Many of these early tins were destroyed or reused with the lithographing altered. Finding a Mrs. Japp's lithographed tin in "Mint Condition" is extremely difficult. Collectors are drawn to the name Japp's because of its' wartime story, so people other than tin collectors have an interest. If a "mint" example was sold, it should command a price of over $500. In addition there are reports that there may be two variations of this lithographed tin (this editor is unaware of the existence any paper label Mrs. Japp's).
Next example is the Humpty Dumpty brand from Maine. Though more regional in nature, its' association with the nursery rhyme and delightful litho character invites collector attention from many. Early versions in "Mint Condition" could easily fetch several hundred dollars. The smaller version, Humpty Dumpty, Jr. is especially wanted by collectors. Note: The company exists today and sells their potato chips in colorful tins by mail order. To the novice collector, one could be easily fooled into paying a great deal for one of these "new" tins, especially if they are found a little dirty and dented (something sellers could help along to fool potential buyers).
Who would have thought that a company known for its' peanuts and nut products could produce a tin, both rare and coveted by a great number of collectors. in 1947, Planter's introduced their Planter's Potato Chips in a tin (there may be at least two varieties) and cellophane bags. Early collectors of Planter's tins and memorabilia were probably quick to recognize the chip tin's potential value. The few tins coming on the open market are generally in average condition, so a tin in "Mint Condition" could very well be worth around $500.
Correction: Though Planter's introduced their potato chips in 1947, the first tin may not have been used until the late 1960's, early 1970's. The tin is still very valuable in Mint Condition.
The next big ticket item was produced in 1950 by the Ohio potato chip firm called Kuehmann's. Hopalong Cassidy memorabilia comes in all types and potato chips in a tin were one of them. While somewhat common, it's hard to find examples in "Mint Condition". An example may cost you several hundred dollars.
Potato chip tins have been largely ignored over the years except for a couple of pioneer collectors, and that has been only within the last 15 years or so. While shunned by collectors, housewives and crafters have used chip tins for a variety of uses. From saving coins in, to storing flour and knitting supplies, these tins have been slotted, vented, and labeled (to identify contents). Some of the handled ones held paints and other damaging materials. Crafters have turned them into lamp bases and other unusual items.
To the delight of potato chip tin collectors, there are hundreds of companies that sold their product(s) in tins. Not all manufacturers used tins, some, like Laura Scudder, were sold only in cellophane/plastic bags. Larger firms may have used several different tins, in lithograph and paper label varieties. Lids are an important factor for Charles' tins since the type (regular, waffled, barbecue, etc.) was printed only on the lid.
One potato chip company, Geiser's, never marketed their chips in tins but sold popcorn in a number of different sizes, including some end-of-the-era, extremely hard to find, paper label tins.
Collectors come across chip tins that look exactly alike but note a difference in WEIGHT. One tin may say 16 ounces, another 14 or 15 oz. This is fairly common among brands. The reasons for it may be one or more explanations. Generally it is assumed that the manufacturer originally sold in the 16 oz. or 1 lb size. Due to chip making process changes, the chip weight could vary. Slice thickness, type of frying oil, potato moisture content could affect the product's weight, resulting in fewer weighing more or more chips weighing less but taking up more volume. Another explanation might be that the company decided to sell less chips in the tin. Higher per unit costs may have forced manufacturers to manipulate the contents in such a way as to appear the same but producing a more profitable sale. Until a knowledgeable individual in the industry discloses the reasons for it, one can only speculate.
But a question to collectors - Does weight variance constitute a tin variation that should be considered different from those that otherwise look identical? You might ask the same about a tin that looks identical except that the tin can manufacturer is different? I have two YO-HO brand tins, they look the same but the tin manufacturer is different. Collectors should carefully examine their tins and any possible future acquisitions to determine potential differences.