11 artifacts in this set
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The staff at The Henry Ford
Shaving Mug, 1825-1875
Until the first decade of the 19th century, tinsmiths manufactured virtually all tinware by hand, using a wide range of specialized tools. Tin-plated iron was a stiff but pliable material, shaped by cutting, bending, crimping (to create folds or pleats), hammering, and soldering joints together. To create tin goods like this shaving mug with a molded handle, rectangular soap holder, and lid, tinsmiths needed training and skill.
Candle Lantern, 1750-1800
The range of tinware made in local tin shops was almost endless. Most were highly utilitarian articles and could be left unadorned. But tinware could be decorated to further enhance its appearance, through japanning (coating with a resin to produce a dark glossy finish), painting, or pierced designs. The tinsmith who made this lantern used horn for windows that allowed candlelight through and japanning for the exterior finish.
Document Box, circa 1820
This document box, designed to carry important papers, was made in Connecticut -- the earliest American tin manufacturing center. Though functional, such boxes were nearly always decorated. This painted example features vibrant swags and garlands. The men and women who painted such tinware may have been part of a family tin business or hired by a shop to do freelance decoration.
Tin was a preferred material for footwarmers, as it conducted heat. Users filled the tin box with hot coals or charcoal, placed the footwarmer under their shoes or boots, and then wrapped a blanket around their legs. The warmth was welcome during carriage rides or church service on a cold day. This example features punched designs that were both functional and decorative.
Lard Lamp, 1842-1860
Tinsmiths adapted their techniques to meet customers' evolving needs. This lamp represents 19th-century changes in lighting technology. The design, which burned lard (instead of oil) to produce light, was patented in 1842.
In addition to new goods, tinsmiths offered repair services. Customers might bring their local tinsmith an article of tin or another material, such as pottery or glass, with a broken part to be repaired with a tin replacement. A tinsmith replaced the broken handle of this pitcher with a newly fashioned tin one -- much less expensive than purchasing a new piece of pottery.
Cake Pans, 1875-1900
By the late 1800s, tin housewares were verging on old-fashioned. Many preferred cast iron (more durable) or graniteware (easier-to-clean and visually appealing). But for very basic items, such as cake pans, or for those who were thrifty and reluctant to change old habits, tin remained a preferred material. It was by far the cheapest on the market for cooking and baking equipment.
Large tin manufactories employing up to 30 people emerged in the mid-1800s, and by the 1870s, they had evolved into fully-fledged tinware factories using steam-driven presses. Within a few decades, these and other large-scale operations had replaced most small tin shops. The manufacturer of this candy pouring tool specialized in confectionery equipment, producing everything from small tools to large candy making machines.
William McKinley Presidential Campaign Tin Cup, 1896
Political campaigns sometimes used inexpensive tinware to promote candidates. This small cup was manufactured by a Cincinnati, Ohio, cannery that mass-produced cans for its own business, as well as cans, pails and buckets, and other tin goods for sale. A portrait encouraged Americans to "Vote for McKinley," the Republican candidate (and eventual winner) in the 1896 presidential election.
McKinley-Roosevelt Tin "Dinner Pail" Candle Lantern, 1900
Lantern (Lighting device)
This presidential campaign lantern from 1900 recalls the popular political torchlight parades of earlier decades. Its form, which simulates a worker's dinner pail, relates to the slogan "full dinner pail," a reference to the economic success of William McKinley's first term. The use of tinware items like this declined drastically over the course of the 20th century.
Some tinsmiths stayed in business into the 20th century by producing gutters, downspouts, and furnace ducts. But these products were soon replaced by galvanized steel and aluminum, which were more durable and easier to maintain. Handmade tinware came to be considered a folk art or a heritage craft. This coffeepot was made in a mid-20th-century tin shop using historical tinsmithing tools and techniques.