Offset lithography was developed in the 1870s and patented in 1875 to create an efficient way to print on tin. Until then, transferring ink from hard stone to hard tin had been largely unsuccessful. This new technique allowed the ink on the litho stone to be passed to a cardboard cylinder (later, rubber would be used) and then offset onto the tin.

The ability to print on tin was particularly important to tobacco companies since tin containers allowed their products to be sealed from the air, which dried out tobacco, and protected from damage (a tin in the pocket was a smarter way to store rolled cigarettes than a soft paper wrapper or box).

Tobacco tins were manufactured in only a small number of shapes and styles. Cylinders and boxes were used for tobacco sold in bulk, while smaller flat or concave tins were designed to be carried in a pocket. A third form was the lunchbox tin, so named for its wire handle and frequent reuse by smokers and their children alike to carry their lunch to work or school.

Because the shapes of tobacco tins were relatively standard, the lithographed artwork on the outsides of the tins was just about the only way to differentiate products on a tobacconist’s shelves. Imagery ranged from birds to butterflies to flowers, with some brands targeted to wealthy men (the tips of some cigarettes produced for this upscale demographic were tipped in real gold) and others to women (Muratti’s was just one of many companies that packaged cigarettes for “Young Ladies”).

The most popular images, though, focused on sailors and the Navy. Probably the best known tobacco-tin brand was Player's, whose Navy Cut cigarettes featured a portrait of a sailor framed by a life preserver. Ogden's made Royal Navy Cigarettes, as did Gold Leaf, Crown, Harvey & Davy, and Hignett, whose Pilot Flake tins depicted a slickered sea captain gripping the wheel of a ship listing hard to starboard.


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