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Collecting Tobacco

by Mike Reilly

     For many tin collectors, tobacco tins are the ultimate tins to acquire. There's even a name for the tobacco collecting field, Tobacciana.    Why are they so collectible? Well, they usually had superior artwork, with elaborate designs, presented in 10 or more colors at times. They were made in unusual shapes, most popular in the mid-1800's, and 1,000's of brands were sold. Some have tax stamps and/or patent dates on them to provide accurate dating.

      So! Big whoop!   But here's more information about collecting them. Types to collect

  • CANISTERS; in round, pie-shaped, square and rectangular sizes.
  • LUNCH BOX; produced with variety of single handle styles, also made with double handles, similar to picnic baskets.
  • FIGURAL; ex. the Mayo brand Roly Polys, a TOP, one shaped like a casket (very appropriate), the milk can (from Union Leader) and more.
  • STORE BINS; larger, maybe not always as attractive as their smaller cousins but very desirable.
  • POCKET; these of course were designed to fit in a man's pocket. Came in flat, vertical, and round styles. Variations include oval vertical, and vertical with a flat back but rounded front. Cardboard was used later on, evolving into the cigarette/cigar packs of today.
  • CIGAR & CIGARETTE tins; usually came in pocket type tins, can be collected as separate categories, by brand or manufacturer (as the others can be).
  • PAILS; canisters with a pail-like handle.
  • SAMPLE or COMPLIMENTARY TRIAL PACKAGE; usually smaller versions of the actual tins.
  • TOBACCO HABIT CURES; whatever the remedy was, it was sold in tins and bottles. Sears Roebuck sold a cure under their SEROCO brand name back in the 1890's.

      Tobacco tins came about after tobacco was sold in wooden caddies (small or large crates), often branded or identified with a colorful paper label. Tobacco continued to be sold in fabric/leather/paper pouches that may have had decorated with printing or had a tin tag attached .

      The tins started out with paper labels, then in the 1870's attempts were made to use stone lithography to print color labels directly to the shiny metal. Tins can be found with paper label only, litho only, or a combination of the two.

      They had an assortment of lid closures that included knobbed lids, snap-down, hinged, and even an ashtray lid. (Editor's note - I'm sure there are more technical terms for the various types of lids. If anyone is aware of them, please write to me.)

     Why else do people collect them? There were a variety of advertising themes; Christmas tins, tins with Indians and other racial pictures, ships and Presidents, and everything else you could imagine. Plus you have all of the foreign brands to choose from too. If you get desperate, you can include the plastic canisters in your collection.

     Tobacco tin collectors often add other tobacco related advertising products and point of sale items to their collections. Things like humidors, pipes, cigar/cigarette packs and cartons, lighters, signs, tin tags, wooden caddies, ashtrays, and all kinds of other merchandise.

Tin tags are little pieces of tin artwork that come in various sizes and shapes. Collected since the 1870's, there is an estimated 12,000 different tags or variations available.



  • Tobacco and Americans by Robert K. Hermann, 1960.
  • Tobacco Tins and Their Prices by Al Bergevin, 1986.
  • Tobacco Tins: A Collector's Guide by Douglas Congdon-Martin, 1992 with price guide insert.
  • Tobacco Tin Encyclopedia by C. Hall Enger (unpublished manuscript?), 1989.
  • Golden Leaves: R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and the Art of Advertising by RJR Co., 1986.
  • The World of Smoking and Tobacco: At Auction by Tony Hyman, 1989.
  • Smoke Signals: Cigarette Advertising and the American Way of Life by Jane Webb Smith, 1990.
  • Chewing Tobacco Tin Tags: 1870-1930 by ?
  • TOBACCO CONTAINERS from CANADA, UNITED STATES and the WORLD, published April 2002.  It is a price guide and reference book. Over 370 pages and well over 2500 colored pictures of tobacco containers.  The book has both Canadian and U.S. values; articles on the three major Canadian companies, as well as other articles such as war time containers. There are bleeding letters at the top for quick reference.  plus other features. Contact Norman Carlson for more information and price at [email protected]  or New Antique Ventures, Inc. (403) 527-6371 Also books now sell for $20.00 plus $20.00 postage.






* Tin Tag Collectors Club - contact Chris Cooper (President, Secretary & Treasurer), Rt 2 Box 55, Pittsburg, TX. 75686, ph: 903-856-7286, fax: 903-856-6879

Membership $20/year, foreign is $30. Members rec the TIN TAG EXCHANGE every two months. Web site- 

* Tobacco Jar Collectors, Society of: Charlotte Tarses, 3011 Fallstaff Rd., Baltimore, Md 21209. For Info, Melinda Bagley, Secretary, 6370 Kirby Ridge Cove, Memphis, Tn 38119

* Cigar Label Collectors International: P.O. Box 66, Sharon Center, OH 44274-0066, Phone/Fax: 216-930-2991

Abbreviations used by tobacco tin collectors

Bag (A bag is a cloth bag by definition)
Bbl Barrel (Shaped like a barrel - e.g. Briggs barrel)
BRD Box with Round Corners (e.g. Benton, Crescent Club)
BSQ Box with Square Corners (Three States Mixture, Cross Swords)
Cabn Cabin Shaped (usually cigars or obviously syrup)
Cf A keywind tin usually coffee hence the usage (also used RKyW)
CgBx A wooden cigar box
Crck Crock
Crmr Tin shaped like a creamer
Disp A display tin - never contained a product
Flsk Flask
FL50 Flat 50 (cigarette tin)
F100 Flat 100 (cigarette tin)
FP Flat pocket (e.g. Small tin with round corners, such as Charm of the West
and smaller than the HP
G or Gl Glass container
GBBl Glass barrel
GOct Octagonal glass jar
Grwl Growler - lunch pail (only know of one)
HB Horizontal Box - any tin with longer horizontal dimensions if not falling in
one of the other categories
Hex Hexagon shaped tin
HLB Handleless Lunch Box
Hm Humidor
HP Horizonal Pocket - most common example is probably Honest Labor
Hse House shaped container
HWBx Horixaontal Wood Box - can also be a CgBx if wooden though this usage
is more common
LB Lunch box tin
MkPl Milk pail shaped - primarily coffee
Oct Octagon Tin
Ov Oval
OvP Oval Pocket Tin
OVST Oval Small Top Tin (talc tins normally)
OvST Horizontal Tobacco Tin with a Smaller Oval Top
Pack Pack (cigarettes)
Pkg Package (usually paper tobacco pack)
Pkt Small cigarette packet (usually held 10 cigarettes)
Rd Round
Rd50 Round tin holding 50 cigarettes
RdST Round Store tin
RKbT Round Tin with Knob Top (wooden knob)
RKyT Round Tin originally opened with a key (cf. Cf above)
RSmT Round tin with small round top
RSnT Round tin with snap type opening top
Sack Sack
Sq Square
SqFl A thin tin that normally held 10 small cigars. Usual dimensions close
to 3 x 3 x 1/2
SqST Square Store Tin
SqST Square small top
STRd Round Store tin
STST Slant front store tin
ST V Vertical Store Tin
Tepe Teepee Shape
Tr Triangular Tin
Tz Trapezoidal Tin
VB Vertical Box
VOv or VOv Oval Cornered Box (usually cigars like Orcico)
VP or UP Usually definition is VP (upright pocket)
VSmT Vertical Small Top
VSQ Vertical Square Box
VWBx Vertical Wood Box
Wall Wallet Shaped tin
WBkt Wood Bucket - paper label assumed
2x6 Pie shape with dimensions defined
4x6 Common tobacco tin shape with third dimension varying.

Some people put a period after the abbreviation to differentiate a tobacco tin from a cigar tin with the cigar tin having the period. Thus Orcico Cigars becomes VOv.



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Copyright Sussex-Lisbon Area Historical Society, Inc., , 2002 - 2016, Except as noted: All documents placed on the website remain the property of the contributors, who retain publication rights in accordance with US Copyright Laws and Regulations. In keeping with our policy of providing free information on the Internet, these documents may be used by anyone for their personal research. They may be used by non-commercial entities, when written permission is obtained from the contributor, so long as all notices and submitter information are included. These electronic pages may NOT be reproduced in any format for profit. Any other use, including copying files to other sites, requires permission from the contributors PRIOR to uploading to the other sites. The submitter has given permission to the website to store the file(s) for free access. Such permission may be revoked upon written notice to the website webmaster. Website's design, hosting, and maintenance are donated by Website Editor & Webmaster: Michael R. Reilly (Mike)