The widespread practice of packing food in tin cans and containers was a direct result of the public's acceptance of the Germ Theory of Disease. In the 19th century, many Americans were still willfully oblivious to the breakthrough research of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch. People were more interested in the pitches of snake-oil salesman and their medicine shows, where cure-all elixirs and exotic balms in medicine bottles were sold. It never occurred to many of these good folk that the best way to be healthy might simply to be clean.

In the early 1800s, cleanliness was one way for the upper classes to distinguish themselves from the working and lower classes, as only the wealthy had access to water and soap. However, as germ theory became more prevalent during the Victorian Era, it became unacceptable for the working poor to be dirty. Most food was displayed and accessed at the local five-and-dimes in communal food barrels—grimy, germ-infested hands would not do.

These days, people of means tend to dismiss canned or “processed” food as something people without access to fresh food eat. But in the late 1800s, food in tins was highly desirable. It was considered much more sanitary, and therefore healthier, than food offered in bins or barrels. That’s when branding became particularly important; customers learned they could expect a certain level of quality from, say, Kellogg’s.

At first, tinplate containers were covered with paper labels, which had a product’s pertinent information and advertising stenciled or printed on them. Machines that could trim and stamp sheets of tin were introduced around 1875, and between 1869 and 1895, manufacturers developed a process that allowed them to use lithography to transfer images directly onto the tin boxes.

Today, lithographed advertising tins are a hugely popular collecting category. Examples of products that were sold in tins range from coffee and tobacco to beverages and snack foods. Companies even sold typewriter ribbons and condoms in specially designed tins.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Advertising Antiques

Advertising Antiques

This classy looking British site features hundreds of high resolution photos of antique porcelain pre-war (enamel) … [read review or visit site]

Historical Marker Database

Historical Marker Database

If you're the type who pulls over when you see a 'historic marker ahead' sign, you'll love this site. Orchestrated … [read review or visit site]

Ad Access

Ad Access

Duke University's library has pulled together an impressive collection of over 7,000 ads printed in U.S. and Canadi… [read review or visit site]

Falvo Collectables Gallery

Falvo Collectables Gallery

Ralph and Carol Falvo's excellent collection of automobiles, petroliana, jukeboxes, soda, and general store items. … [read review or visit site]

American Package Museum

American Package Museum

Ian House's gallery of early 20th Century American package designs. Browse the exhibits in slide show mode or view … [read review or visit site]

Found in Moms Basement

Found in Moms Basement

Paula Zargaj-Reynolds’ blog, an extensive collection of 20th century vintage advertising, is a visual feast. Scro… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Mccready Bros Oyster Tin/can Chincoteague 1920's Forest & Stream Vest Pocket Tobacco Tin Fly Fisherman GraphicsAntique Kampfe Bros. Safety Razor Tin Can BoxRare Vintage Honey Moon Tobacco Tin - Circa 1910 - Honeymoon Tobacco TinScarce—12 Oz. Pride Of Chesapeake Bay Oyster TinAntique Iroquois Cigar Tin Vintage Tobacco Can Native American Indian Brave OldAntique The Great Red Men Tobacco Tin Vintage Cigar Can Native American IndianVintage Ballard Egg Island Cultivated Oyster Tin Planters Peanuts Tin Litho Measuring Cup 3"-vtg J & W Cruise Line Cut Plug Smoking Tobacco Tin-excellent Plus !Rare Vintage Honey Moon Tobacco Tin - Circa 1910 - Honeymoon Tobacco TinMail Pouch Tobacco Humidor Store Counter Display Tin – Scarce!Vintage Chincoteague Island Brand One Gallon Oyster Tin Can Virginia Va.223Scarce—1 Gal Famous “pearl” Brand Oyster PailVintage Vanko Horse Motif Cigars Tobacco Tin - LargeVintage U.s. Marine Tobacco Vertical Pocket Tin Tobacciana Advertising Vintage Silver Sea Oysters Gallon Lithograph Tin Can / White Stone Virginia Rare Indiana Typewriter Ribbon Tin With Indian ChiefScarce—pilot Brand Paper Label Coffee TinRiverhead Gold Rolliown Tobacco Vintage Tobacco Tin RareVintage Avor Tin Lid Glass Mini Mug 1 Oz Candy ContainerAntique De Laval Milk Cream Separator Tin Lithographed Wall Match Safe HolderAntique Advertising G. F. Foster's Spice Tin St Paul Mn Vintage Cracker Jack Toy Premium Tin Delivery Truck, Police Patrol Truck & Car!!Vintage Red Owl Spice Tins, Bottles Lot Of 10Old Antique Chinese Tea Advertising TinOld Judge Vintage Ginger Spice TinLot 1-5 Vintage Spice Tins-hudson Brand,hostess,stickney And Poors,willis ThorpeJ & F Bell Ltd, Glasgow ' Squatter ' Brand Tobacco Tin - Super Condition Vintage Country Club Cloves Spice Tin / Kroger Grocery & Baking Co. Cincinnati Ogden's Redbreast Flake Tobacco Tin - Early / Vintage - 1/4lb Size Souvenir Coronation Tin - King Edward Vii & Queen Alexandra - Sample Tin1950s Humber & Dodge Litho Tin Car Badge Emblem's General Mills Wheaties CerealAntique Victorian Vintage Jacobs Dublin Biscuit Tin - Carmen Winner Cut Plug Tobacco Tin Lunchbox With Strap, Circa 1900'sVintage Chicago Nos Typewriter Ribbon Tin: City Skyline Street ViewFountain Tobacco TinVintage Pocket Tobacco Tin Times Square Ny Smoking Mixture Advertising LithoVtg Erb & Zaring Peanut Butter Tin Pail Can Shamokin Northumberland County PaLarge Old Vintage Royal Corona Coffee 15 Lb Tin Ca 1925 SeattleEpicure One Gallon Oyster Tin Graphic Nice VintageFlick Flash Lighter Fuel Tin By WhizMonarch 2,pound Peanut Butter Antique Advertising Tin With Lid Chicago IllinoisEquestrian Tin Platter Horse Woman By Climax Milling Co. 1905 13.5x16.5" Approx.B & L Oysters One Gallong Tin Vintage Graphic NiceVintage Ray's Seafood Brand One Gallon Oyster Tin Can Crisfield Maryland Md.570Large Antique Store Advertising Biscuit Tin Hitchner West Pittston PaThe Winchester Store Sales Service Bulletin 1924 Paint Brush Tin Can Sign PosterShamrock Potato Chips Pittsburgh Pretzel Co 3 1/2 Pound Net Vintage 2 Sided TinPlanters Streamline Glass Jar With Paper Labels & Org Tin Lid 1940 Leap Year JarVintage Sears Roebuck Special Combination Coffee Tin Litho Can 5 Pounds LbsVintage Champion Tobacco Tin - 1 Ounce - Rare - Gladiator TrademarkNice Old Metal Primrose Motor Oil 5 Quart Advertising Motor Oil Tin Can SkinAmerican Beauty Cove Oysters Biloxi Mississippi Paper Label Tin Vintage OldVintage Antique Zebra Axle Grease Tin Oil Can- Quincy, IllinoisLarge Fishers Peanuts 10lb Antique Store Display Peanut TinVintage 1 Pound Lay's Potato Chip Tin Can '40'sAntique Radio Crystals Tin Lot See Pics For More Detail Vintage Seacrest Oysters Gallon Can....cool!Vintage Star Pocket Chewing Tobacco Tin-antique-advertising-pipe-cigarette