Antique Advertising Tin Guide: History & Values

Colorful antique advertising tins provide wonderful decorating opportunities. Small toiletry tins grouped in the bath or on a dressing table add charm, as do food-related tins in the kitchen.

Larger tins can serve as containers for all sorts of items and look great on top of cabinets or stacked in a corner.

Vintage & antique tins an in depth guide
Table of Contents

    Food Container History

    Ancient civilizations used baskets and clay jars to store food, but neither method offered safe, long-term preservation. By and large people living in agrarian and hunting-gathering societies saved food by drying, smoking, and pickling.

    Much later, people living in towns and cities had to make daily trips to local markets to purchase fresh ingredients for meal preparation.

    Eventually, “general stores” opened offering a large variety of food and household goods. Products like coffee and rice, displayed in glass jars and wooden barrels, could be purchased by weight or size and placed in paper bags. Some items like oil and vinegar were available in individual glass bottles.

    Early Tin Packaging

    In 1667, a pair of Englishmen “discovered” a method of plating iron with tin that had been invented by the Bohemians.

    Manufacturers would later use this tin material to create containers in a variety of shapes and sizes. The first recorded sale of these containers dates to 1725 from the port of Bristol Channel (England), History of Metal Packaging.

    Tobacconists began using metal tins to contain their product in 1760. Ultimately, early in the 1800’s, a method was invented to preserve food for long periods in tin containers, and thus the tin can was born.

    Unmarked Tin Containers

    Antique black tin container

    Early tin contains were mostly unmarked, like the black example you see here.
    Value: $20-28

    Embossed Tins

    Antique embossed tin: DeWitt's carbolized witch hazel salve

    Very early in the 1800’s, you would find tins with embossing, like the DeWitt’s Carbolized Witch Hazel Salve seen above, Dating Your Tins & Cans. Value: $2-4

    Stenciled Tins

    Antique tin canister stenciled "Tea"

    By the mid-1800’s, tins could be found with simple stenciled content indicators, as seen with this Tea canister. Value: $15-18

    Tins With Paper Labels

    McCormick's Pure English Mustard tin with paper label

    During this same period (mid-1800’s), paper labels were also used to identify contents, as you see here with this antique McCormick’s (Bee Brand) English Mustard tin with a paper wrap.
    Value: $4-6 (more if perfect)

    Enameled Tin

    By the late 1800’s manufacturers had developed a method of transfering lithographic images directly onto tin.

    These colorful tins have been saved through the years because of their charming colors, images, and/or typography.

    Types of Advertising Tins

    Spice, coffee, and tobacco tins are among the most common but tins have been used to contain many other products. Let’s take a look at some of them.


    Antique Apollo hard candy tin container

    The Tindeco container company (1914-35, Baltimore) produced this Apollo Hard Candy tin with gold graphics and hinged lid. Value: $15-20 (more if perfect)

    You can also find candy containers by Barton’s, Mackintosh’s, Louis Sherry and many others.


    Antique maxwell house coffee tin

    Coffee tins of the sort you see above would have had a key attached, which you would use to roll away a metal strip near the top to release the lid. This process was developed in 1917.

    Maxwell House Coffee tins like the one above date to the 1930’s-40’s.
    Value: $10-12 (more if in better condion with lid)

    Coffee brands to look for include: Hill Brothers, Sanka, Folgers, Chase & Sanborn, and multiple other lesser known brands.


    Antique Droste's Cocoa tin

    I came across this delightful 5″, 8 oz. Droste Cocoa tin (made in Holland) with hinged lid in an antique shop priced at $22.

    A newer looking tin with similar graphics but with flat corners (making it 8-sided) dates to 1984 and was made in England. Today, Droste sells its cocoa in cardboard boxes rather than tin.

    Other foods that have come in tins over the years include candy (see above), coffee (see above) spices (see below), cookies, potato chips, nuts, ricotta cheese, pop corn, spam, ham, shortning, and more.


    Antique Porter-SEal tin

    For lack of a better moniker, I’m calling this category “garage” because it includes items commonly found there, like oil, fuses, salves, waxes, tape, poisons, and cleaning compounds.

    The style of font found on this 4″ Porter-Seal tin matches the 1939 date on the side. It was produced with a similar font until at least 1979, but came with a plastic rather than tin lid.

    One recently sold on eBay for $21 + shipping.


    Antique Mentholatum salve tin

    Mentholatum salve, manufactured in both Buffalo (NY) and Wichita (KA), is still being produced today(!). This 1 1/2″ tin dates to the early 20th century. Value: $5-6

    Other medicinal tins to watch out for include bandages/plasters, cough drops, smelling salts, and pills of various sorts.


    Spice tins are one of the most highly collected of all tins. Collectors especially look for examples like this attractive (and rare) 4″ Sweet Life tin, dating to the 1940-50’s.
    Value: $15-20 (more if perfect)

    Spice tins that are easily found at garage sales and flea markets include McCormicks, Ann Page, Krogers, and Colman’s Mustard.


    Collection of vintage and antique tobacco tins: Sir Walter Raleigh, Union Leader, Half and Half, and Velvet

    Tobacco tins, like the four common examples you see above (Sir Walter Raleigh, Union Leader, Half and Half, and Velvet) are another popular area of collecting. Hundreds of brands have been produced through the years.

    Prince Albert brand introduceded the hinged lids you find on these smaller “pocket” tins in 1907, Dating Your Tins & Cans. Values: $5-10 each


    Antique Johnson's baby powder tin

    Johnson’s baby powder hit the market in 1894. Johnson & Johnson designed the tin container as a rectangle rather than a circle to prevent the container from rolling off a baby’s changing table, Our Story.

    I’d date the 7″ one you see above to the 1950-60’s. Value: $10-15 Other “toiletry” tins to look for: make up, face cream, deodorant, soap, and perfume.

    Typewriter Ribbon

    This “Superba” typewriter ribbon container by Underwood sold several years ago for $8. Most ribbon tins sell in the $8-20 depending on the allure of the graphics.

    Look for tins by other typewriter manufacturers like Royal, Remington, and Smith-Corona, along with a myriad of other lesser known ribbon makers.

    Types of Closures (Lids)

    Key Type

    Antique chase & sanborn coffee tin

    Coffee cans like this Chase & Sanborn tin would have come with a key attached (usually on the bottom) and a metal strip around the top.

    After removing the key you would insert the metal tab at the end of the strip into a slot in the key, and then turn it until the lid was fully released. This process dates to 1917.

    Other tins that relied on key style mechanisms include sardines, corned beef, and Spam.


    Antique Slade caramel toffee tin

    In the early 1900’s manufacturers developed the ability to create hinged lids. You commonly find them on pocket tobacco tins and some candy tins like the English Slade’s Caramel Toffee above. Value: $10-20

    Pry Lid

    antique Davis Baking powder tin

    Pry-type lids are common on spices and baking powder, though it’s unclear when they first became popular. Value: $8-12 (Davis Baking Powder tin)

    Slip Lid

    Vintage Velvet tobacco tin

    Slip lids that fit tightly onto their bases are among the most common, like the one you see above on the Velvet Tobacco tin. Value: $10-15

    Are Vintage Tins Worth Anything?

    If you’ve read this far in the article then you know that vintage and antique tins can be valuable. Some antique tins in excellent condition can be worth hundreds of dollars.

    The best way to find out if your tins have value is to check eBay’s sold listings, which is quite easily done. In addition, check current ebay listings as well to gather additional info.

    Even newer vintage tins typically sell well so don’t rule them out if they have a nice, antique look about them.

    What to look for when shopping for tins:

    • Colorful lithography
    • Eye catching images and typography
    • Very good to excellent condition (unless priced accordingly)

    How to Date Antique Advertising Tins

    Vintage and antique tins are notoriously difficult to date. Rarely will you find any sort of date and even then, relying on copyright and patent pending dates is not recommended.

    Some important facts to keep in mind, however, when trying to date a tin:

    • Pre-1875: You would find stenciled labels
    • Lithographed tins date to 1890 at the earliest.
    • 1907: First hinged pocket tobacco tins introduced
    • 1917: Key-type closure invented
    • 1954: © symbol in common use
    • 1963: Zip codes introduced
    • 1974: UCP codes introduced
    • Typography and design can indicate date of manufacture, though some designs were used for decades
    • A very glossy surface and unworn bottom are signs a tin is likely newer

    Clean & Care for Antique Advertising Tins

    Collectors and resellers must handle vintage and antique tins with care due to their tendency to rust, scratch, and fade.

    To clean a dirty tin container, wash lightly with mild soap and and a non-scratching sponge or washcloth. Allow it to dry thoroughly. Better yet, dry it with a hair dryer to prevent rusting. Keep out of direct sunlight to prevent fading.

    Apply a light coat of soft wax and buff it out to brighten the colors and to help resist future rust. My wood salve is perfect for this (recipe in post).

    Decorating with Vintage & Antique Tins

    Vintage and antique orange and black tins used to decorate for Halloween

    Decorating with vintage and antique tins is the obvious way to use those in your collection. Creating delightful, seasonal vignettes with them, like I did with the orange and black tins you see above, results in unique statement decor that no one else has.

    Vintage and antique tins holding flocked Christmas trees

    A couple of years ago, I used several old tins to create this farmhouse Christmas display. I’ve sold several in the $20-25 range at the annual Christmas show I participate in.

    Antique Tetley tea tin used as an "Easter basket"

    You can also use attractive old tins, like the above Tetley tea example, as substitutes for Easter baskets.

    Antique Beech-Nut coffee tin holding sewing notions

    And lastly, I recently used this Beech-Nut Coffee tin to contain an assortment of sewing notions which sold on Etsy for $32(!).


    If you’ve never tried selling tins before, I recommend giving them a try, whether from your antique booth or through your online business. A fair amount of buyers search for them regularly to add to their collections, as do farmhouse decorators.

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    1. I love old tins, new tins, and new reproductions! I have a shelf over the (stairless) kitchen door where most of them live. If it were a slamming door, I’m sure they would have vibrated off by now! My marmalade crocks live on the same shelf; it is a nice mix! I inherited–and have sold–most of my late mother’s 50# lard cans; we lived next door to a donut maker. She used them in the attic to store her rug braiding woolens; they were mothproof. It’s how we did it before plastic totes! I still use my tins as Christmas gift boxes for family (so I get them back!). They are so pretty under the tree–and cat proof!

    2. Diana, This is a great article. Thank you very much.
      I was so sorry to read about your Mother. It is so difficult to see your Mother like this, they have always been our rock. nothing prepares us for this. I am so happy your siblings will be helping you navigate this new journey. You and your family will be in my prayers.
      ( My Mother has stage 4 lung & liver cancer with congestive heart problems. She is 98, and has been dealing with this for several years. it is a hard journey.)

    3. thanks diana for sharing with us. i learned so much and i will now notice old tins. i never thought about them as having value unless they were colorful. i have a lot of old shoe polish tins that my husband had in the army and haven’t been able to figure out prices. you are always so generous in giving us ideas and price ranges.

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