March 11, 2013

Vintage food tins functional, fascinating

Who among us can remember playing in grandma’s old button box, the one with the lady on the front holding a fruitcake? 

Or how about reaching into the saltine-cracker tin for a snack, then using the container to hold crayons or toys? How about that pretty chocolate tin that held colored pencils after the candy was gone or the peanut-butter pail with a handle that made it just perfect for marbles? The fact remains: Many old food tins were just too functional and beautiful to be thrown away.

Tins offer a glimpse back to a time when food preservation went beyond practicality and became a medium for art and advertising. They fascinate us with colorful graphics and charm us with creative designs. They provoke a sense of nostalgia and link us to fond memories of the past. They were the very first recyclables, and today there is a resurgence of interest in them.

While tins dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s are difficult to find in excellent condition, vintage tins from the 1920s through the 1950s are plentiful. Collectors are snatching them up for bargain prices on eBay, at yard sales and in thrift stores. Most collections are built around a certain time period, design style, color or theme, while others are collected because of sentiment.


Katherine Mason, an accomplished chocolatier with a passion for antiques, began collecting vintage candy tins about a year ago when she opened her business, the Lake Placid Chocolatier, in Lake Placid. 

“I love vintage tins because they are so nostalgic,” Mason said. “I use them to decorate my shop because they relate to my product and add charm to my decorating theme. The customers notice them, too, and often mention them.” 

Mason, who admits to being fascinated by the endless variety of shapes, colors and decorations on old candy tins, also reflected on the social importance, historically, of the confectionery business. 

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