The Tobacco Tins Many Uses

1910 Lunch Bucket.JPG (310765 bytes)Over the years tobacco companiesí marketing and merchandising departments produced a dazzling array of advertising items. With the growth of the tobacco industry, the quantity of advertising products proliferated in proportion. From the ubiquitous painted barn travelers see in farm country to the smallest tobacco tin, these signs, logos, and trademarks became indelibly embedded in American life.

The process of lithography was patented in 1875, creating an efficient way to print on tin, a particularly important technique to tobacco manufacturers who needed to seal their product from the air. Tobacco tins were manufactured in only a small number of shapes and styles. There were cylinders and boxes used for bulk tobacco sales, and smaller flat or concave tins for personal use designed to be carried in a pocket. A lunchbox tin had a wire handle and was typically reused for its namesake purpose, as was the lunch bucket. There were also figural tins that held a pound of tobacco and were designed to sit on a table or shelf. They were called roly polys because of their shape.

Singing Waiter roly poly.jpg (332267 bytes)Like any manufactured item, tobacco tins found other uses once the product itself was exhausted. Containers are always necessary for storage, and tobacco containers both large and small proved very convenient.

In the fifty or 60 years prior to 1940, thousands, if not millions, of children carried their lunch to school in emptied rectangular tobacco tins. If one were lost or destroyed, another was not difficult to procure - if there wasn't another one already lying around the house.

Because of the limited shapes and sizes of tobacco tins, lithography was about the only way to differentiate products on store shelves. There were images to appeal to everyone, birds, butterflies, animals, hunting, cowboys, gentlemen, flowers, the more colorful, the better.

Stag Tobacco pocket tin.jpg (826586 bytes)The most popular images were those of sailors and the Navy. Multiple companies offered tobacco in tins covered with sea captains at the helm, Navy vessels, ships and other manly images. Companies targeted ladies who used tobacco with beautiful and colorful feminine subjects on containers.

Many people think that because something is old, itís valuable. In tobacco tins, like most antiques, itís not the age, but the rarity, the demand, the design, and the condition. It makes no difference whether or not tins still contain the tobacco. Rare tins with few known examples will naturally be more valuable. But collectors have to want them too, so both rarity and demand are required to add value.

Collectors love tins with fine designs and lots of color. And condition is always important in defining value. No scrapes in the lithography, and an intact sheen to the finish are most desirable.

Beginners can start with entry-level tins costing as little as a few dollars. These are common and easily available brands like Prince Albert, Velvet, and Sir Walter Raleigh. But if they have a barcode on them, they have little value. Mid-level tins can be found from $20-80 and include such brands as Honey Moon, Hi-Plane, Twin Oaks, and Stag. The combination of rarity and demand can combine to drive prices up. Those tins that donít come up for sale very often can sell for hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. Rare tins in such brands as Gold Dust, Shogun, Cardinal, and Rock Castle must be in good condition with the lithography intact and colorful, without rust or dents or other defects with a nice shine to the finish to bring top prices.