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.
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 desireable.
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 been 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. Offset lithography was developed in the 1870s and patented in 1875 to create an efficient way to print on tin. Until then, transferring ink from hard stone to hard tin had been largely unsuccessful. This new technique allowed the ink on the litho stone to be passed to a cardboard cylinder (later, rubber would be used) and then offset onto the tin.
The ability to print on tin was particularly important to tobacco companies since tin containers allowed their products to be sealed from the air, which dried out tobacco, and protected from damage (a tin in the pocket was a smarter way to store rolled cigarettes than a soft paper wrapper or box).
Because the shapes of tobacco tins were relatively standard, the lithographed artwork on the outsides of the tins was just about the only way to differentiate products on a tobacconist’s shelves. Imagery ranged from birds to butterflies to flowers, with some brands targeted to wealthy men (the tips of some cigarettes produced for this upscale demographic were tipped in real gold) and others to women (Muratti’s was just one of many companies that packaged cigarettes for “Young Ladies”).
The most popular images, though, focused on sailors and the Navy. Probably the best known tobacco-tin brand was Player’s, whose Navy Cut cigarettes featured a portrait of a sailor framed by a life preserver. Ogden’s made Royal Navy Cigarettes, as did Gold Leaf, Crown, Harvey & Davy, and Hignett, whose Pilot Flake tins depicted a slickered sea captain gripping the wheel of a ship listing hard to starboard.
They had an assortment of lid closures that included knobbed lids, snap-down, hinged, and even an ashtray lid.
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.