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English biscuit tins can be a sweet collectible

Nov. 25, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

When an American hears the word biscuit they usually think of a form of bread. However, to the English it refers to a hard crisp cookie often put together with a sweet filling. These English biscuits have been quite popular through the years usually served with the ever-present cup of tea in Great Britain. Though many Anglicans made their biscuits at home there was a market for the store or bakery bought.

It was observed that if the cookies were stored in tins they could be shipped here and there. The first tins appeared in 1830 when a baker asked his tinsmith brother to make boxes so he could ship his cookies by stagecoach to other markets. Competition kicked in, and in 1860 a London printer figured out how to transfer print directly on to tinplate. Shortly thereafter printed tins appeared keeping biscuits fresh, and by 1900 the designs were plentiful.

The tins were primarily aimed at the middle class of the era and were most popular during the Christmas season. Companies soon figured out that the more attractive they could make a tin the better it would sell, so artists became an intricate part of the production process. Today one can find evidence of their work in tin renditions that resembled all manner of common items such as vases, purses, toys, furniture books and more.

Even more interesting, some of the designs were buildings, some were famous people and some were scenes from different countries. Many of the tins came in a series, so a collector today would want to have a set. As time moved along and technology refined the process more elaborate tins appeared resembling automobiles and airplanes. It wasn't until World War II that the tins declined in popularity.

Though Huntley and Paler was probably the first company to use the decorative tins to ship its biscuits, numerous others followed suit. One can find names such as William Crawford and Sons, Peek Frean and Company or McVitie and Price, Ltd on the sides of many of these tins. There were many companies involved in this industry so one should become familiar with them as well.

This is a very interesting hobby and there seems to be a price for everyone, however, there are some right expensive tins on the market reaching into the hundreds of dollars.

Jean McClelland writes about antiques for The Herald-Dispatch.

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