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Tea History With Bins/Tins and More

by Mike Reilly

     Tea, according to Chinese legend, was first used during the reign of Emperor Shen Nung in about 2737 B.C. Thought to be mainly of Chinese origin, other peoples of Thailand and Burma may have been cultivating and using it for as long a time.

     Around 800 A.D. tea was introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks where for several hundred years it was primarily used for medicinal purposes. Later when green tea was developed, it became widely used as a beverage.

     In the early 1600's, the British and Dutch East Indian Companies discovered tea while developing their Far East trade routes. England became acquainted with it in 1657 and the European continent soon followed suit. Though introduced in 1657, it didn't become the the British custom of afternoon tea until about 1840 when the Duchess of Bedford began using it as such. The Japanese tea ritual dates back to the 12th century with its formal ceremonial rules being created in the 1600's.

      If it hadn't been for the Boston Tea Party, we Americans would probably be drinking a lot more of it instead of coffee. Despite our fondness for coffee, America is ranked #2 for the importation of tea after Britain.

      During the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 in St. Louis, an Englishman, Richard Blechyndur, tried to sell Americans on the merits of tea drinking. Being a hot day, people passed by his booth in favor of those selling cold drinks. In desperation he poured hot tea over ice and served it in tall glasses. It became an immediate success.

      About the same time, Thomas Sullivan of New York was sending samples of his teas to customers sewn in small cloth bags instead of the more expensive tins. He soon had orders for all the tea bags he could send. In 1919, Lipton Tea put the first advertising tag on a tea bag. Still later in 1952, the Lipton company introduced the patented Flo-Thru Tea Bag.

     Though China was the main exporter of tea up until the late 19th century, India soon took first place by 1900.

      Tea was one of the first goods to be packaged in metal containers. Early import/export companies shipped it in metal-lined wooden crates. Pewter (widely used in England) was used one of the earliest metals used to fashion oriental style tea containers. Tin plated iron was made into tea canisters as early as 1790, often hand painted with places of the tea's origin.

     Tea in those early years of discovery by Europeans was expensive and kept under lock and key like so many other herbs and spices.

      Some of the earliest tea containers were caddies shaped like steeples and Japanned decorated. After tea's introduction to grocery stores, bins and large canisters, usually decorated with Japanned finishes, came into use (around the Civil War era). Because of their limited number and the demise of the country store, these are some of the most sought after and expensive tea containers to collect. Slant tops or roll bottoms are the most desirable.

      What follows are listings of various bins & tins that the tea container collector can find. These are not all inclusive, hundreds not being listed. This author asks for additional input from his readers to add to the listings below. There are many more national and regional companies to discover for you as a collector.

Antique & Older Tins

  • AMERICAN ACE, American Tea and Coffee Co., Nashville, TN, 4 oz., paper label, 3.5x3x3.

  • APALDA TEA, 4.5x4.5x4.25

  • BAIRD & PETERS, house-shaped w/glass windows to view contents, hinged door, 9x8x5.25

  • BANQUET, McCormick & Co., Baltimore, U.S.A., square, litho, 3x1.5x1.5.

  • BANQUET, McCormick & Co., contained 100 tea bags.

  • BANQUET TEA, McCormick & Co, pry lid, 3x3, blk & wh on bright orange, copyright 1939.

  • BETSY ROSS , Plunkett-Jarrell Grocer Co., Little Rock, Ark., 10 cent size, 3x2.25x1.

  • BEN HUR, riding a chariot, medals on opposite side, 6.25x7x7.

  • B.F. JAPAN TEA, slant bottom w/ hinged lid, store bin, 13x16x19.5

  • BLANKE'S, Faust Instant, 1/2 oz., sample, paper label.

  • BLUE RIBBON, rect.,litho, dog sled scene.

  • BONITA BRAND, Chase & Sanborn, 1/2 lb cardbd, tin bottom & top.

  • BROOKE BOND TEA, 1 lb.

  • CANAWELLA, Crook, Brown & Co., Winnipeg, Man., litho, Indian on horse, 8.25x6.5x6.5

  • CASTLE BLEND, at least two varieties exist with castle scenes, 6.25x7x6.25

  • CB ORIENT, Extra Choicest Quality, slant front,7x5x5.

  • CITY TEA & COFFEE CO., Winnipeg, Man.,rect., litho, old building scene, 9x7.5x5.

  • CHOICE FAMILY TEA, Winslow, Rand & Watson, pail, litho, Boston, Chicago.

  • CHOICE FAMILY TEA, store bin, litho w/flowers & bee, Quebec, Canada, 10.25x13.5x10.25

  • CROWN DERBY, large stenciled store bin, 15x19.5x15.

  • DINING CAR TEA, Norwine Coffee Co., St. Louis, Mo.,sq., cardbd., 3.5x3x3.

  • EAGLE ORANGE PEKOE, 1/4 lb tin.

  • E.C. HARLEY COMPANY, stenciled, Dayton, O., 5.25x5.25x7.5

  • EDWARDS TEA, 3.5x3.5x4.

  • FOLTZ MAID, The Foltz Grocery & Baking Co., Cincinnati,O., sq., litho, Young Hyson, 4x2.5x2.5

  • FOLTZ MAID, The Foltz Grocery & Baking Co., Cincinnati, O., 4 oz., mixed tea, 4x2.75x2.75.

  • FORBES BROTHERS, sloped front bin, litho of two horses, St. Louis.

  • GOLDEN DOME, 5x8.

  • GRANDMOTHER'S, sq., 1/4lb., litho, 4x3x3.

  • GRAND UNION TEA CO., Brooklyn, N.Y., Corner Pearl and Water Streets, sq., litho.

  • GREAT AMERICAN TEA, made by Ilsley, round with small top.

  • GREAT AMERICAN, 2 lb, 6x7.5, red background with black lettering, New York store shown.

  • GREAT ATLANTIC & PACIFIC, sq., litho, grandmother picture, 10x7x7.

(The Great American Tea Company began in 1859, by 1865 had 25 stores. In 1869 it became the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company growing to have 15,000+ stores in 1930.)
  • HILLSIDE, red/black/gold store bin, Toronto, Canada, 13x13.25x13.

  • HUDSON'S BAY, hinge-lift lid, litho, Upper Fort Garry, Jack Canuck, Golden West pictured.

  • IMPERIAL BLEND, at least three sizes w/ ocean liners, made in England and Canada.

  • JACK SPRAT, sq., litho, 5x2.5x2.5, 8 oz.

  • JOHN H. MANN & Co., made by Ilsley with small top.

  • LIPTON, His Majesty the King, sq., litho, 6x4x4.

  • LIPTONS, Tea Merchants, sq., paper label, various British arms pictured, 6x4x4.

  • LIPTON'S, round, 1 lb., paper label, 4.5x5.

  • LIPTON, many larger tins featured London traffic scenes.

  • LIPTON, 1905, small, commemorates Lewis & Clark Expedition.

(Lipton Tea began in 1891 when Sir Thomas Lipton bought up all available tea plantations in Ceylon. Began marketing in the U.S. in the 1890's. incorporating his business in 1915.

See Lipton on the internet at -

  • MAY BLOSSOM, The World Tea Co., 36 Vesey St., New York, rect., litho, oolong tea, 7x7x4.5

  • MAXWELL HOUSE, Cheek-Neal Coffee Co., New York, sq., litho.

  • MAYFAIR TEA, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., sq., litho, 4x2.5x2.5

  • McCORMICK, 25 tea house tea bags, rect., litho, 5x4x2.

  • MILLAR'S HILL GROWN, Gunpowder tea, sq., cardbd.


  • MONARCH, Light of Asia, sq., litho, India woman, 8 oz., 6x3.5x3.5

  • MONARCH, Reid, Murdock & C0., established 1853, Chicago, sq., litho, lion, 6x3.5x3.5

  • MONARCH, 4 oz, copyright 1923, chromolitho.

  • NASH'S, Gateway tea, Nash Tea & Coffee Importers, Vancouver, Canada, sq., litho, 7.5z6x6.

  • NATIONAL, sq., litho, U.S. Capitol pictured, 4x2.5x2.5

  • (National Tea Company, a retail food chain-store company, was

  • founded in in Illinois on February 6, 1902 as a self service store.)

  • NEW MOON, Sherman Bros. & Co., tin lined shipping box, 20 lb., 16x13x11.

  • OCEAN BLEND, Ocean Blend Tea Co.,Toronto and Peterboro, Canada, 6.5x4x7.25

  • OCEAN BLEND, 8x6.75x8.5

  • O-JIB-WA, Laxative Herb Tea, round, paper label.

  • OWL CHOP TEA, hinged lid w/ owl logo, Montreal, Canada, 7x9x4.5

  • ORIENTAL, Montgomery Ward & Co., 2 lb., Chicago, Kansas City, sq., litho, 7.5x5.5x5.5

  • PENZA TEA, 7x5x7.75

  • PRAIRIE TEA, Crook, Brown & Co., Winnipeg, Man., rect., litho.

  • RIDGWAY'S CARAVAN TEA, sq., litho, 6x4x4.

  • RIVERA TEA, 7x5x7.75

  • ROCHELIEU, 1/2 lb.

  • ROSE MARIE, 1/2 lb tin.

  • SAHIB, S.S. Pierce Co., Boston, 1/2 lb., sq., litho, 4x3.5x3.5, came in various size tins.

  • SALADA TEA, had folksy tea tags attached, "Golden Tea Pot Blend" .

(Salada Tea founded in Canada by Peter C. Larkin in late 1880's, calling it the Salada Ceylon Tea Company, Ltd., company bought in 1957 by Shirriff-Horsey becoming Salada-Shirriff-Horsey.)
  • SALMON'S, fish pictured on 2x0.75x2.5 tin.

  • SHEBA, Montgomery Ward & Co., Chicago, 6x6x8.

  • STERLING, store bin with Quebec landmarks pictured, 8.25x11x8.25.

  • TEA HOUSE TEA, McCormick.

(McCormick company started in 1889 but  began selling tea circa 1900. The Tea House brand came out

in 1937.)

  • TETLEY'S, rect., litho, flowers and bee, 1/4 lb, 4.5x3.5x2, (Jos. Tetley & Co., Inc. New York, N.Y.)

  • THURBER, WHYLAND & Co. TEA, 4x7.

  • TWILIGHT, C.W. Antrim & Sons, Richmond, VA., sq., litho, 1/4 lb, 3.5x2.5x2.5

  • VANTINE'S, A.A. Vantines & Co., Inc., New York, 1/4 lb., sq., litho.

  • VICTORIA TEA, Montgomery Ward & Co., Chicago, Kansas City, sq., litho, 7.5x5.5x5.5

  • WHITE HOUSE, 4 oz., sq., cardbd.

  • WHITE VILLA, White Villa Grocers, Inc., Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, sq., litho, 4.5x2.5x2.5

  • YALE, Steinwender-Stoffregen Coffee Co., St. Louis, Mo., 3.5x3x3

Contemporary Tins

  • CELESTIAL SEASON, mini w/koala bear.

  • JACKSON'S of PICCADILLY TEA, red & green.


  • LIPTON TEA, 100th anniversary.

  • LIPTON TEA, Earl Grey.

  • LIPTON TEA, English Breakfast.

  • LIPTON TEA, red/lady in blue.

  • NESTEA, Nestle.

  • TETLEY TEA, 100 bags.

  • TETLEY TEA, 150th anniversary.

  • TETLEY TEA, tall , blue, 1987.

Other Tea Collectibles

  • (look for tea pots, tea sets, signs, magazine ads, trays,etc.)

  • Banquet brown figural teapot, "A Wonderful Flavor Iced or Hot", 9.5x10.

  • Home Tea Company tray, 16.5x13.5, dated 1905.

  • Japan Tea paper advertising parasol.

  • Java tea bag, Oriental style decoration.

  • Lipton paper signs, various designs and themes.

  • Lipton mug, Carol Wright.

  • Lipton mug, milk glass.

  • Lipton Herbal tea mug.

  • Union Pacific tea tray.

REFERENCES - Tins'n'Bins by Robert W. and Harriet Swedberg, 1985.; Food and Drink Containers and Their Prices by Al Bergevin, 1988.; The Tin Can Book by Hyla M. Clark, 1977; Antique Tins by Fred Dodge,1997; Advertising - Identification and Price Guide by Dawn E. Reno, 1993; Antique Advertising Encyclopedia by Ray Klug, 1993; Illustrated Tin Container Guide by Evalene Pulati, 1973; Kovel's Know Your Collectibles by Ralph and Terry Kovel, 1981.



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