Tobacco Collectibles

Tobacco Tins                    

Tobacco Collectibles

Until the arrival of airtight tins during the 1860s, flake tobacco was weighed out from stone jars or sliced from a compressed 'plug' using a special plug cutter. Wrapped by hand into what were known as 'twists'or 'screws', smokers in those days displayed loyalty to a specific tobacconist rather than to an individual brand of tobacco.

However, the airtight tin revolutionized the tobacco industry.

Guaranteed freshness provide the prefect opportunity for companies to pre -wrap and selectively brand specific types of tobacco and cigarettes, thus allowing manufacturers to take greater control of the market.

 Tobacconist shops became emporiums of colorful tins and Packets, battling with one another to attract the eye of the somewhat bewildered customer.

Hand-made cigarettes remained expensive and were afforded only by the wealthy; the working class man smoked clay pipes while miners working underground chewed their tobacco.

Tobacco Collectibles
 The halcyon days of tobacco tin art stretched from 1880 right through to the outbreak of the First World War. During this time, tobacco tins were decorated with everything from battleships, birds and beautiful belles to snake charmers, steam trains and kilt-wearing Scotsmen.

The introduction of cigarette-making machines into Britain from America in the 1890s greatly reduced the price of cigarettes - Wills' Woodbines and Player's Weights, for example, sold for just a penny a packet. As a result, pipes began to give way to cigarettes and new styles of cigarette packets started to replace airtight tins.

The formation of the Imperial Tobacco Company of Great Britain and Ireland (ITC) - a move designed to fight off the threat posed by James Duke and his fast-growing American Tobacco Company - led to the amalgamation of Britain's leading tobacco companies under one umbrella in 1901.

In parallel with tins containing Biscuits and Mustard, early tobacco tins carried crude paper labels and it was not until a printing technique, known as chromolithography, came to Britain from Germany during the mid-19th century that tobacco tin decoration evolved into an elaborate art form.
Transfer printing bridged the gap between paper labels and direct tin printing.

Tobacco Collectibles
This process saw the transfers applied to flat sheets of tinplate prior to oven baking, stamping out and final assembly.

Direct printing took time to perfect, largely due to the lack of ink absorbency of metal compared to paper and card.

By the 1880s, teething troubles had largely been ironed out, enabling tins to be decorated in a similar manner to show cards.

Therefore, it was not uncommon to find 10 or  more separate colours being applied to the tin's surface. Companies synonymous with the manufacture of finely lithographed tobacco and cigarette tins included Barclay and Fry of London, Barringer Wallis and Manners of Mansfield, Hudson Scott and G&T Coward of Carlisle, The Tinplate Decorating Co. Ltd. of Neath and John Bentley of Manchester.
Tobacco Collectibles

Tobacco has always enjoyed a close affinity with the sea. Sailors, allowed a daily ration of tobacco, made their own plugs by coiling tobacco leaves tightly with string. The string was then slowly unwound and small quantities of tobacco sliced off each time a pipe was to be filled - hence the term 'Cut Plug'.

 Indeed, links with sailors and the sea remained strong as the tobacco industry developed with brands such as Life Boat, Trawler, Capstan, Pilot, Starboard, Skipper, Bulwark and Nelson lining the shelves of tobaconists' shops.

The ubiquitous Player's 'Hero' is regarded as one of the most famous trademarks of all time. John Player, convinced that a bearded sailor was the ideal image to market his new 'Navy Cut' tobacco,
purchased the original image from W.J.

Tobacco Collectibles

Parkins of Chester who had previously used it on an advertisement for Jack's Glory tobacco in 1880. Player purchased this design from Parkins and began using it in different styles. Later modification saw a life buoy superimposed over the sailor's head in 1888 and, in 1891 - the year the design was first registered - warships, HMS Britannia and the more modern-looking HMS Hero, were incorporated into the design.

In 1898, this famous trademark was re-worked again and a new sailor appeared inside the life buoy. He was modelled on Thomas Huntley, a sailor who was spotted in an 1898 issue of'The Army and Navy Illustrated'. Huntley received two guineas and a quantity of free tobacco for becoming one of the most famous faces in the world. Several tins were manufactured in the Players life buoy design, the rarest being a dark blue version which held gold-tipped cigarettes and is worth around $150- £100 in mint condition.

Tobacco Collectibles

Navy Cut, prices can rise to $150-£100 each while exceptionally rare examples can fetch at least several hundred pounds; Wills' 'Main Line' Flake, for example, has always been a favorite for collectors. The early version depicts an Edwardian 'Great Western Railway' locomotive pulling clerestory-roof carriages while the later type shows a more modern main-line locomotive of the inter-war period. Both versions are equally scarce and worth at least $350-£250 a piece in good condition.

Another extremely rare and valuable cigarette tin was issued by the White Star Shipping Company to hold cigarettes made for them by W. Ariel Gray and Co. Showing a colourful picture of a four-funnelled Atlantic liner based on the Titanic and Olympic, this tin - like many others - was designed to be used as a vesta (match holder) when the cigarettes had been smoked and has a striking plate stamped  into its base.
Tobacco Collectibles

Tins showing evocative images of pretty Edwardian ladies - designed to attract gentlemen smokers rather than promote female smoking - can fetch $500-£350
 each in pristine condition.

'Woodland Belle' by Stephen Mitchell & Co. of Glasgow is one of the most sought after of these followed by 'Gaiety Girl' cigarettes made by B. Kriegsfield and Co. and Taddy's 'Myrtle Grove' (Myrtle Grove being the home of Sir Walter Raleigh). With the value of tobacco tins on the increase, it is, at least, some comfort for smokers who've spent a small fortune supporting their habit over the years.

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  1. Wonderful info and a great post! Thanks so much

  2. Hello, I like this post. Maybe you know who made the design of white star tins? Where was the litography made and how? Was it a transfer like the ones made at home tod

  3. Hello, I like this post. Maybe you know who made the design of white star tins? Where was the litography made and how? Was it a transfer like the ones made at home tod

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