Vintage Tobacco Tins

We’ve all seen a collection of vintage tobacco tins. Lined up along the tops of kitchen cupboards, carefully arranged on a set of shelving, or just scattered around a room in apparently random positions, these antiques have a certain air of nostalgia and mystery about them.

We want to pick them up and study their labels, pop the lid to see what is inside, draw in a deep breath from the open can to see if we can catch an antique whiff of tobacco, or maybe cookies. What is it about these common artifacts of early twentieth century life that fascinates us so?

Old tobacco tins are a relic of times gone by. They are often colorful and interesting because they had a triple purpose: to store tobacco, of course, but also to decorate and to advertise. Because they depict the life of the times in a certain way, they are considered an art form by many people — a status which greatly increases their value.

Tobacco chewing and smoking has been a hallmark of Western culture for generations, reaching virtually every segment of society. Vintage tobacco tins take us back in time — they are readily accessible records of our history.

Though many old tobacco tins show signs of long wear, having been used for multiple purposes from tobacco storage to button collections over the intervening years, their utility as storage containers remains high. These simple vintage tobacco tins are so much more attractive and durable than the ubiquitous plastic container of today. They are so practical and decorative, even after decades of use that people tend to repeatedly find a new use for them long after the tobacco has been smoked.

Old tobacco tins were designed for a variety of uses: there were round or bucket-shaped tins with lids for tobacco or cigars, tin cigar boxes, store display tins, tiny tobacco tins to fit in a pocket, small tins, large tins, and even glass jars with tin lids. Some vintage tins had decorations and printing both inside and out. Some had words and decorative geometric patterns; others had illustrations depicting people and other things. Some were very colorful.

Today, vintage tobacco tins make a popular collectible. So many were produced in the first half of the twentieth century that there are many still in circulation. Some have become quite rare and valuable, adding a bit of challenge and an element of luck to the search for new ones; the value of an old tin depends mainly on its rarity and its condition.

Most tins that are traded today range in value from about $100—for rare tins in mint condition, down to just five or six dollars for the smaller tins that are readily available. It’s easy to build up a good collection without spending too much money.

The tobacco industry invested in a great deal of advertising over the years, giving rise to many other objects associated with cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoking, and chewing tobacco. Vintage tobacco tins are just the beginning: posters, calendars, coasters, old cigarette and cigar packages, cigar labels, and matches are just a few of the other possibilities.

Best of all, all of these items are readily available on the internet, both from retailers of antiques and on internet sites where collectors can buy sell and trade their treasures. It’s never been easier to shop for something new for a collection: it’s like having an endless wall of cupboards topped with old tobacco tins, and any of them can be yours.


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