Vintage Tins
By Karen Parr-Moody

Farmhouse chic has taken center stage in a wave of homespun glory. And firmly planted among the wire baskets and wash tubs are vintage tins.

Use of tin as a metal began several thousand years ago, but it was during the early 1800s, in Britain, that tin cans were invented for storing food. Since then tins have been used to transport a variety of goods.

Today, vintage tins are intriguing items to collect. Since many were made during the heyday of American advertising, they have bold labels done in a splashy fashion meant to catch the consumer's eye. To collectors, that advertising style elevates them to the level of Americana.  

A group of vintage tins on a shelf can make for a lovely decorative accent. Such a collection might include anything from Chinese tea tins in vivid colors to demure French biscuit tins.

In addition to being decorative items, tins can also prove useful. They can be a vessel for displaying flowers in an uncommon way. Just put a glass inside the tin, since they leak, and then add the water and flowers. Alternately, tins can be used as statement-making storage. One can create a craft bin full of notions, buttons and ribbon. If a tin is big enough, it makes great housing for seasonal items, such as Christmas decorations, lights and gift bows.

The lamp in the photo, above right, is made from a round, vintage Tiger brand chewing tobacco tin ($225; Booth B-108). Chewing tobacco gained incredible popularity in America's rural North and South during the mid to late 1800s. As commercial sales grew, the advertising and packaging followed. During the early 1900s this Tiger tin, with its red lithography print, would have carried 48 packages of chewing tobacco, each costing five cents, from the manufacturer in Jersey City, N.J. to general stores across the country. It is a true piece of American retail memorabilia.

During antiquity, people washed clothes by pounding them on rocks and letting the dirt wash away in streams. The earliest washing "machine" was the scrub board, invented in the late 1700s. While there was a washing machine with a drum developed by the mid-1800s, it wasn't until 1908 that the first electric-powered washing machine, Mighty Thor, came along. During the late 1800s and going into the 1900s, there was all manner of washing powders for use in sinks and machines. Among the washing powders which have gone by the wayside were Fun-to-Wash Washing Powder, Fairbank's Gold Dust Washing Powder and Snow Boy Washing Powder.

Then there was -- and still is -- All detergent, the powder with real staying power. The All metal pail in the photo, left, is made of galvanized steel and dates to the the mid-1900s ($120; Booth B-228). It once held 25 pounds of "controlled suds for a cleaner wash." Despite being a bit banged up from years of helping out with the wash, this pail still retains a vivid blue and yellow color. What a fun piece for decorating a modern laundry room.

The Baker's Delight Baking Powder tin in the photo, right, is for a baking powder that was manufactured by the Solliday Bros in Wichita, Kansas ($24.50; Booth B-118). The company dates to the 1890s and sold a variety of extracts and vinegars in addition to baking powders. The tin features the figure of a "Mammy" holding a pan of biscuits emerging fresh from the oven. Despite being a figure largely derived from the imagination, that of the obese "Mammy" is one of the most widely-known racial caricatures of the Jim Crow period, which spanned  approximately 1877 to 1966. She has been seen on hundreds of items, including ashtrays, postcards, souvenirs, detergent, artistic prints, fishing lures, toys, candles and kitchenware.








For a decorator enamored of bohemian chic, the tin in the photo, left, fits the bill. The language on it should really be coined "Franglais." While "fleur" means "flower" in French, the word "bulbae" has no translation. Still, its shabby chic aesthetic makes it look like a one-of-a-kind item that might be found at a charming flea market in Paris. Imagine how lovely this tin would look if lined with a flower-filled plastic pot.

Vintage tins have a look about them that is old-fashioned and enchanting. Placing one in a strategic spot in a room will create a shabby style of chic. Such a look reminds one of a time when life revolved around the general store and items such as washing powder were the latest and greatest inventions.  


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