Saturday, November 8, 2008

We Collect Tobacciana

Dumpdiggers often find little bits of American tobacciana in century old trash, and such pieces are highly prized by antiques collectors all over the world. Tobacco tins are the very best metal packages to collect because these boxes are the canvas on which the World's best 'box art' is painted.

Tobacco tins are generally superior to all other containers because they are more frequently adorned with fancy designs and presented in multiple colors - as many as nine different colors! Antique tobacco tins were sometimes made in unusual shapes as the art of making tin cans became more and more sophisticated.

Tobacco tins were never more popular than they were in the early 1900s; in the years before and after WWI there were thousands of different brands sold all over the world. The Dutch had a massive global tobacco industry, followed in scale by UK conglomerates, French and American syndicates. Veteran Dumpdiggers who find tobacco tins in their holes today can learn a great deal about the people who dumped there by finding and researching the recovered tobacco packaging tax stamps and patent dates. This info can also be used to help 'date your dump'.

A Brief History of Tobacco Containers

In colonial America and other parts of the world cigars were first sold in leather pouches, or canvas or cloth envelopes to which a tin plate was sometimes affixed. As time went on the product evolved to wooden boxes and then tax laws were changed to allow the industry to pack product in tin boxes of various sizes.

The tins started out with paper labels, then in the 1870's attempts were made to use stone lithography to print color labels directly onto the shiny metal. Tins can be found with paper labels before 1870, and lithography after that date. Some of the best examples display both types of decals.

Just as antique soda pop bottles evolved through a variety of shapes sizes and closures, so too did tobacco evolve through various containers until manifesting itself in beautifully decorated tin boxes. Today collectors index an assortment of lid closures and Dumpdiggers can use this information to date their excavations - all different patent information and registration data can be used to pinpoint the exact age of certain knobed lids, snap-down closures, hinged lids with armatures and all manner of screw top canisters.

The 20th century saw two developments that greatly impacted the tin box industry. The 1910 legalization of small boxes of 5 and 10 cigars gave a big push to the industry as tin was highly suitable for small containers. Only 4 years later, improvements in drying tech-niques sped the manufacturing process, reduced loss, and led to affordable boxes and cans. After 1915, tin containers could truly be mass produced. This Tobacciana Museum is amazing.

Dumpdiggers collect All Different Types of Tobacco Tins:

CANISTERS in round, pie-shaped, square and rectangular sizes.
LUNCH BOX produced with variety of single handle styles, but also made with double handles similar to picnic baskets.
FIGURAL TINS mark the height of innovation and are sometimes the most prized collectibles ex. the Mayo brand Roly Polys, a TOP, one shaped like a casket (very appropriate), the milk can (from Union Leader).
STORE BINS are larger and although not always as attractive as their smaller siblings, they are usually more desirable to collectors.
POCKET PACKS were designed to fit inside a gentleman's pocket. They came in flat, vertical, and round styles. Isotopes include oval vertical, and vertical with a flat back but rounded front. Cardboard replaced tin in the 1940's and of course this has evolved into the cigarette packs that manufacturers use today.
CIGARETTE TINS usually came in pocket sized packages, these are often collected as a separate category and indexed by brand or manufacturer.
PAILS medium sized vessels with a pail-like handle.
TESTERS were usually just smaller facsimiles of the original tins.

Tobacciana is Culturally Rich Art

Early tobacco advertising had so many different and fascinating themes; there were Christmas tins, and cans and boxes decorated with Indians and mountains, ships, horses, trains and Presidents, and everything else you can imagine.

Tin tags are little pieces of metal art that come in various shapes and sizes and have been collected since the 1870's. There's an estimated 12,000 different tags available.

Tobacciana also includes other tobacco related advertising products and point of sale items like posters, plates, humidors, pipes, cigar/cigarette packs and cartons, lighters, signs, tin tags, wooden caddies, ashtrays, and other merchandise.

Tobacco and Americans by Robert K. Hermann, 1960.
Tobacco Tins and Their Prices by Al Bergevin, 1986.
Tobacco Tins: A Collector's Guide by Douglas Congdon-Martin, 1992 with price guide insert.

Observe the ARENA Photo Battle for Best Tobacciana on

I read here in the history of tin cigar boxes that the Bayuk Co of Philadelphia was a market driver and home to some degree of advanced technological innovation. In 1926 Bayuk Cigars of Philadelphia built what was at the time the largest completely air-conditioned cigar factory in the world. Today this is the most recognizable brand of cigars from America's Great Depression era.

PERFECTO BAYUK CIGAR "Makers of Fine Cigars since 1897!"

Here's my own Vintage Philadelphia Phillies 5-cent PERFECTO BAYUK CIGAR lithographed tin on eBay.

Tin measures 7 1/4" wide, 51/2" deep and 3" tall. It is in fair condition (includes original wood divider). This item is being sold as is, so please refer to the photos. It is rusty, and there are scratches and dents in the exterior, but the interior is clean and still has the cardboard insert (which I think is quite remarkable considering the age of the item) and lid is held up by metal arm that "locks" into a slit on the lid. Manufactured in Factory No. 650 - 1st Dist. PA. On the back panel and inside the lid the Bayuk Co. boasts a guarantee of "1929" being a "peak sales year". The "5-cent" cigars were made with a "Sumatra wrapper - the same fine ripe Domestic and Havana long filler".

Here's my Tobacciana Table in the Underground Show and Sale on

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