Commercial Tobacco production in the USA started in the 17th century when immigrants used it as seed crop to start their fledgling farms, it was a fast growing plant and was easy to cultivate and harvest, but it did not have great value compared to other crops and many farmers moved to higher value crops as soon as they could. However, as tobacco smoking spread accross Europe the 1700's the demand for tobacco increased as did the value, and so the large tobacco plantations came into being.
Cured Tobacco was packed in wooden cases and barrels for bulk transport and then broken down by re-sellers and sold loose or in card or paper wraps. As there was little to differentiate beween the different tobacco brands, producers used to apply branding tags to the ropes, plugs or twists of tobacco. These tags are now highly collectible in their own right, see this informative video https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=297724559228249
The arrival of metal tins in 1780 allowed producers to sell tobacco in accurate pre-determined weights and enclose it in a sealed tin which helped to prolong the life of the tobacco. Initially these tins were covered by a printed paper label identifying the brand and the manufacturer, but in 1875 a new lithographic printing process was invented that allowed high quality printing directly on to tin plate.
Marketeers seized upon this and were soon printing their tins with highly decorative, brightly coloured designs often based on seafaring, plantation or historic themes. Victorian style also featured strongly in the 1890's centred mainly on the gentleman smoker and as fashions changed through the 1920/30's so the tins designs changed accordingly.
Tins were generally produced in three sizes, small flat or concave pocket tins with a flip lid, large cylindrical drums or rectangular boxes, normally with a hinged lid, and very large so called "Lunch Boxes" or "Pails" that had a carrying handle so that the empty tin could be used as a school or work lunch box.
There were literally hundreds of tobacco manufacturers in the country, and they were all trying to stand out on the shelves with their highly decorated tins, and many survive simply because they were so attractive and had many practical after-uses in the home or workplace. Even some of the early tins with paper labels survive, but you will need deep pockets for the best of these!
These tins tell us the history of the USA through graphic design and they make for a wonderfiul and interesting display, and although there is a heavy shipping cost to pay when buying tins from the USA, it is a cost well worth paying.
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W.T.Hancock. Richmond VA