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    

Antique Rare 1910 Black Americana Bigger Hair Smoking Tobacco Tin Advertising Vtg. Paul Bunyan Key Wind Coffee Tin Can1920's Original Gray Dunn Biscuit Tin Mechanical Bank House English Litho -noresLarge Coffee Or Spice Store Display Tin, E.b. Millar & Co., Chicago1920's Rare Original Huntley & Palmers Windmill Biscuit Tin English Litho -noresVery Rare Old "foote's Best" One Gallon Oyster Can...maryland1920's Original Christie's Windmill Biscuit Tin English Litho Advertising -noresAntique Wamba Magnolia Coffee Tin Litho 1lb Keywind Can Houston Texas VintageHuge Advertising General Store Spice Bin Or Barrel, All Original, 17” TallGl Pease 2oz Tin Stonehenge FlakePre-1900 G W Gail & Ax Navy Chewing & Smoking Tobacco Tin Can Canister Rare NrVintage Advertising Tobacco Bulldog Vertical Pocket Tin Excellent 678-yChincoteague 1/2 Gallon Oyster Tin CanRare Banquet Smoking Mixture Tin ~ Hookah ~ American Eagle Tobacco Co. DetroitWalking Jack Sprat 12 Oz Peanut Butter Tin Can & Handle Marshalltown, IowaRay Jones R/j Wittman Md Crab Meat Tin Can 1 Lb Md 542-c Not Oyster MarylandReed & Reed One Gallon Oyster Tin CanVintage De Laval Cream Separator Tin Litho Advertising Cow & Calf #1R And J One Gallon Oyster Tin CanBull Dog Brand Spice Tin - Frank Tea & Spice Co. - Mustard - Cincinnati, OhioDelicious One Gallon Bail Handled Oyster Tin CanEarly Countertop Candy Store Display Tin, Pansy Chocolate CreamsVintage De Laval Cream Separator Tin Litho Advertising CowVintage De Laval Cream Separator Tin Litho Advertising Cow & Calf #2Oyster Tin Can Shadyside Md 1 Gal1920's Original Macfarlane Lang Co. Watermill Biscuit Tin British Litho -noresMint Daufuski One Gallon Indian Chief Oyster Can Scarce Dated 1935Captain Sparks Wingate Md Crab Meat Tin Can 1 Lb Md 117-c Not Oyster MarylandW E Ward Crisfield Md Crab Meat Tin Can 1 Lb Md Not Oyster MarylandAntique 1920s Golfing Biscuit Tin Robertson Brothers Limited Toronto Canada A/fOriginal Old Litho Tin Advertising For Forest And Stream Pipe Tobacco-Gold Flake Antique Rare Tin, Globe Tobacco Co, Detroit - Bright Virgina LogoKeywind Tin White Cap Coffee 1lb Original Lid The Heekin Co Cincinnati, OhioBillup's Brand One Gallon Oyster Tin Can Mathews Virginia Va464Vintage Buckingham Cut Plug Tobacco Vertical Pocket Tin John J Bagley Tobacco CoLarge Bright Tiger Chewing Tobacco TinStork Brand One Gallon Oyster Tin CanAntique Montauk Oyster Tin Litho Can Native American Indian Seafood Grocery NySadlers Annapolis Maryland Crab Meat Tin Can 1 Lb Md 79-c Not Oyster MarylandVintage Advertising Tobacco Hi Plane Twin Engine Vertical Pocket Tin 678-yOne Gallon Mcnaney Superior Oyster Tin Can, Mcnaney's, Baltimore Md1920's Original William Crawford Scales Nursery Biscuit Tin British Litho -noresVintage Big Ben Smoking Tobacco Tin Brown & Louisville Ky. Usa Good VintageExcellent Condition Crossed Swords Cut Plug Tobacco Tin Vintage Sun Tavern Coffee Tin Key Wind Can Boston MaRare Tucketts Abbey Pipe Tobacco Rough Cut Pocket Tin Can Vertical Tin Can .Vintage 1 Lb Breakfast Cheer Coffee Tin Can. Key Wind Campbell And Woods Co.#1Rare Canadian Blue Ribbon Tea Tin 1910 Yukon Nwmp Dog Sled West Coast IndiansVintage Advertising Tobacco Lucky Strike Vertical Pocket Tin 673-yRare Sealtite Baltimore Oysters Metal Sign - Killian Baltimore Nude MermaidVtg Golden Robin Brand Tin~pure Spices~ginger~ottawa Wholesale Grocer~ks~hutchVintage Buckingham Bright Cut Plug Smoking Tobacco TinGl Pease 2oz Tin Southern StarOriginal Vintage Frisbie Pie Tin Pie Pan Frisbee Frisby Deposit Bakery PlateTawes Brand Crisfield, Md Crab Meat Tin Can, 1 Lb.Early Coffee Tin, Berry, Lohman & Rasch, S.a. Ilsley LithographersAntique Patuxent Oyster Tin Litho Seafood 1g Can Broomes Island Maryland GroceryAntique Biltmore Tobacco Tin Riddle & Hargrave Chatham VaKeywind Tin Lipton's Coffee 1lb Orig Lid Thomas J Lipton Hoboken Nj + 6 More Lot Of 18 Vintage Spice Tins