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Tennis Ball Tins

by Larry Whitaker

    The first metal tennis ball cans were made in 1926 by Wilson. Before 1926, tennis balls were sold in bags and cardboard boxes. The style of lid is a very important part of what makes a can desirable or not.


     The best cans are those that were made in the U.S.A. and have a flat lid. A flat lid will not go back onto a can after it has been opened. Because of that, most opened flat lid cans are missing the lids. A flat lid can with a missing lid looks like the top was cut off with tin snips.

      The newer more common U.S.A. cans have a lid with a slight dome shape to it. A dome lid will go back onto an opened can and stay on tight to hold the balls safely in the can. It seems like 1942 is the approximate date when they changed from flat to dome lids in the U.S.A. Dome lid keywind cans have one groove pressed out around the can about 1/2 inch from the top. If the grove is pressed in, the can is most likely a newer easy opening pull ring can. Flat lid keywind cans and some pull ring cans have no groove at all.


      Most English cans had flat lids whether they are old or new and should not be confused with the rare flat lid American cans. However there are ways to tell an old English can from a new one. The new style of English lid is sunken down about 1/3 inch and the old style of lid is hardly sunk down at all. The biggest difference might be that most old English cans have several grooves in them (4 sets of 2-4) while the newer cans only have only one near the top like the dome lid U.S.A. cans. Also an old English can will have a solder spot in the lid or on the bottom of the can. Air pressure was put in through a small hole and then soldered shut. Both styles of English lids will go back onto the can after opening.

      One type of old tennis ball can was not a keywind. It had a metal cap. Printed on the cap is "Remove this cap, press inner disc firmly to release" The metal cap was pried off by hand. These cans are semi rare.

The best cans are (in no particular order):

  1. Flat lid U.S.A. cans

  2. 12 ball cans.

  3. Old style English cans

  4. World War II cans. Either steel, cardboard, plastic bags, or paper bags. Sometimes say "Victory" on them, and may say something about the rubber being made of a substitute material to support the war effort.

  5. Old boxes that pre date cans (pre 1926)

  6. 4 ball cans & 2 ball cans. (3 ball cans are much more common)

Other good cans

  1. Cans with a metal cap (disc cans)

  2. 6 ball boxes (pre 1960)

  3. Cans with a famous player on them (except for Pancho Gonzales and Vinnie Richards)

  4. Cans with a paper label.


to compare this list to the picture, count left to right starting with the top two.

  • 1 Old style English can, notice solder spot

  • 2 Disc lid can

  • 3 Flat lid U.S.A. can unopened

  • 4 Flat lid U.S.A. can opened. Notice sharp edge around top unlike # 8

  • 5 Flat lid U.S.A. can opened. Lid will not stay on can, unlike # 6

  • 6 Dome lid U.S.A. can opened. Lid does stay on can

  • 7 English new style. Notice how new English cans are taller than U.S.A. cans

  • 8 Dome lid U.S.A. can. Opened missing lid. Notice the groove * pressed out around can near top. Flat lid (U.S.A.) cans don't have that (cans 3,4,5,& 9 don't)

  • 9 Same as #8 except flat lid. Notice how short an opened flat lid can is. (#4,5,& 9

*if the groove is pressed in, the can is most likely a newer (after 1972) easy opening pull ring can and not what I am looking for.


to compare this list to the picture.

Top left is #1, Bottom left is #2, #3 is second from the left, both top & bottom, #4 is third from the left, both top & bottom , #5 is far right, both top & bottom

  • 1 Disc can lid

  • 2 Old style English lid. Notice solder spot

  • 3 Flat lid U.S.A. upside down & right side up. Not sunken down as far as English lid (#5) Notice sharp edge. This lid will not stay on a can after it has been opened.

  • 4 Dome lid U.S.A. upside down & right side up

  • 5 New style English lid. Sunken down farther than a U.S.A. flat lid

Contact Larry Whitaker at [email protected]


The tin below sold for $2,700.00 on eBay on April 29, 1999

Very Rare DON BUDGE Wilson one dozen tennis ball can with endorsed picture of Budge on the front and "Endorsed by Don Budge" orange squares encircling the tin. Comes with three original balls. One third reads Wilson International Tennis Balls, the other reads one dozen, pressure sealed, Approved by United States Lawn Tennis Association, Wilson Sporting Goods Co., Chicago, New York, and other principle cities. Made in U.S.A. Very colorful orange, blue and black with little W logo's around the tin. There are two paper tears on front - one is 1/2" x 1/2" just encroaching the oval picture of Budge - and one tapes down on the back otherwise very good condition solid, bright, and colorful. 7 1/4"H x 6 1/2"Diameter.


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