American Tinware of Days Ago

American Tinware of Days Ago
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American tinware, an attractive item many collectors enjoy, often adorns their kitchens or family rooms. Some old tinware is highly decorated while other pieces may be subdued in color and design. However, it all has appeal to someone.
Commonly associated with Yankee peddlers, American tinware often was distributed by them as they went from home to home around the countryside. Frequently they were hired by the makers of tinware and traversed the Atlantic seaboard on foot and with carts and horses. Later they carried their goods westward.

Tinware of Many Types

This hand-painted and stenciled tinware - pots, pans, coffee pots and urns, canisters, trays, candle sconces, cookie cutters, lamps, dippers, cake molds and boxes of various sizes for holding anything from food supplies to jewelry and important papers - was produced in the millions of pieces in the 18th and 19th centuries throughout New England.

Articles of tin were made in England and on the continent in the 1600s and 1700s where the process of "japanning" (applying and kiln-firing lacquer imitative of Oriental work) was refined to a high degree. Elaborate designs of classic and rococo style ornamented many of these wares.

American Tinware

Until after the American Revolution, the colonies imported most of their tinware. However, some was made in America as early as 1712. In 1740, Edward and William Pattison began producing tinware that led to Berlin, Conn. becoming an tin center.

Most early tinware was unpainted and thus often called, "poor man's silver," and considered inferior to articles of china, glass, and silver for the household. Piercing, punching, or crimping was the manner of ornamentation if elaboration was desired.

Signed Tinware

After 1800, the use of tinware became more widespread and handpainting and japanning were the usual methods of decorating. Often the tinsmiths' families were the decorators, with wives and daughters frequently revealing much artistic ability in their designs. Occasionally old pieces still can be found with an artist's name or initials worked into the design.

Tinware made by Aaron Butler often was signed by his daughters who did most of the hand-painting. "Ann Butler" or "B" was found within a heart wreathed by flowers, fruit, stars, birds, etc. Another daughter, Minerva, also signed her full name or initials to many pieces she painted.


Stenciling, or the use of cutout paper patterns in shaping the parts of a design for handpainting, was begun in 1817. These designs usually were in bronze or gold against a dark or black background.

Black and brown background colors were very common for both hand-painted and stenciled tinware. Rarer background colors were yellow, cream, blue green and red.

As you begin your tinware collecting forays through antique shops, yard sales, and auctions, check out these wares to see if you can find something old and interesting.

(c)2002 Mary Emma Allen

About the Author

Mary Emma Allen has written "Curios of Yesteryear" for publications since the 1960s. She and her daughter find their trips into the realms of collectibles enjoyable adventures. Mary Emma also writes other columns, books, and travel articles. Her book, "The Magic of Patchwork", takes you into the history of quiltmaking. Visit her web site for more information about her columns and books at


About The Author

Mary Emma Allen researches and writes from her multi-generational NH home. Check out her new site, Tea Time Notes

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