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Collecting antique tins

Walk round any antique shop or market and you're likely to come across old advertising tins - branded containers for cigarettes and tobacco, ointments and cough drops, sweets and confectionery, coffee and tea, talcum powder and gramophone needles. But where did it all begin and how?

Whilst the very first tin boxes go back centuries, the art of actually printing highly coloured designs and branding onto tins began in the 1860s with the very first printed biscuit tin produced by Huntley and Palmer of Reading, England, in 1868.

From that date onwards, increasingly sophisticated methods of transferring coloured designs onto tin, initially patented from a French technique by Bryant and May, matchmakers of London, became widespread making printing of tins more affordable.

The years from the 1880s onwards saw increasing numbers of brightly coloured and attractive designs printed on biscuit, tobacco, food and pharmaceutical containers in a process which has continued to the present day. And if you look around, there are many tins still to be found with prices starting from as little as a fiver.

So what to collect? Some choose biscuit tins issued by the major UK companies of Huntley and Palmer, Crawfords, MacFarlane Lang, Peek Frean and others throughout the 20th century in an increasing variety of styles and shapes - from tins shaped as books and luggage trunks through to those made to resemble vases, tin toys and even old furniture. Not perhaps for the beginner, some of these tins today fetch many hundreds of pounds at auction.

Perhaps a better bet are tobacco and cigarette tins. All major companies issued their products in tins for freshness and protection from the late 19th Century onwards. Containing everything from everyday pipe-smoking tobacco through to presentation tins of cigarettes for Xmas gift. Featuring a wide range of illustrations, from gentleman's clubs and Indians through to trains and ships, there is a vast array of brands and thematic subjects to collect.

And that's just the beginning. Anything ever issued in a tin is fair game. That includes American prophylactics, salted peanuts, lard, mustard, oil, marshmallows and spices.

But whatever you decide to collect, condition is everything. Any serious collector will want tins that are in very good or excellent condition. The tin must be complete, with lid and any other catches or clasps, and must not have bad scratching, rust or fading.

Old tins can still be found on the web and in auctions and are still available at reasonable prices. So whatever you collect, happy hunting and happy collecting!

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