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© Copyright 2017 John Turner - All Rights Reserved

Collecting Old Tobacco tins 

When starting to collect old tobacco tins finding tins is very easy, just go to any boot fair or log to Ebay and you will find a ready supply of tins to buy. The problem is that there are so many brands and variations that to simply collect on the basis that you do not have a particular tin would very quickly drain your pockets and leave you with a muddled and pointless collection.

When starting a collection it is a good idea to begin by concentrating on one of the bigger companies such as W D & H O Wills or Ogden’s who produced many brands over a long period of time and who made many variations within each brand. These tins were produced in huge quantities and many tins survive and are quite affordable, so you can quickly build up a good sized collection spanning over a hundred years of production.

This approach will give you a feel for the physical changes in tin production over time and will help you better judge the actual age of a tin rather than go on the physical appearance alone. You will enjoy your search much more if you research the history of the Company, you may find old prints and advertising material and other ephemera to add breadth to your collection and to enhance your display.

When buying old tobacco tins you should always be looking for tins in the best possible condition, but tins in mint condition are not always easy to find and you will find yourself buying tins in less than perfect condition as you start your collection. Always be prepared to trade up, if you see a tin that you already have but in better condition than yours, buy it and re-sell the lesser tin, by so doing the overall standard of your collection will improve and you will gain invaluable trading experience.

The age of a tin is certainly an important factor in determining desirability and value however, age does not always mean rare or valuable, take for example W D & H O Will’s Bulwark Cut Plug, a great looking tin with an old design that stayed constant throughout its lifetime, but it was on sale from 1890 to 1970 and was sold in huge quantities, so as good as it looks it is quite common and not of great value, unless it is one of the very early tins (pre 1904).

Now as in the past, advertising muscle made the big brands bigger, so brands produced by the likes of Wills, Ogden’s, Players and the other Imperial group members are generally more commonly available and therefore less valuable. Brands produced by the smaller companies and ‘Own Brand’ tins produced by retailers are far rarer and should be more valuable, but because they are not instantly recognisable they are often overlooked and undervalued.

Condition is important, but the older the tin is the more likely it is to have some blemishes and generally speaking this is acceptable, particularly in the case of the rarer tins. The most important thing is the condition of the lid and the graphics which must be as clean as possible. The condition of the tin body is not really that important but some of the larger tins do have graphics and text on the side panels and in these cases condition is relevant.

Avoid trying to clean tins with anything other than warm soapy water, the printed surface can be rubbed off very easily, especially on the older tins. If you do wash a tin make sure to dry it thoroughly using a hair dryer and store or display your tins in a cool dry place and avoid exposing them to direct sunlight as they will fade.


When you find a tin, the first thing to do is to establish it’s age. Do not trust the description given by the seller, you will often see tins described as rare or vintage simply because the tin has a design that looks old. Take Mick McQuade or Sobranie as an example, add a little wear and you could be forgiven for believing such a description when in fact the tin may well be from the 1960’s or later. Always do your homework before buying.

Using the UK Tobacco Brands Library you can identify the years that a particular brand of tobacco was on sale by referring to the date range shown alongside each brand. The date range tells you when the brand first and last appeared in published price lists i.e. 1920 – 1940

For most brands this is enough information, but where brands were on sale for a long period of time i.e. 1905 – 1965, additional investigation is required to zero in on a more precise date. Detailed investigation into the company history can of course provide a great deal of interesting information about a brands history, but this can take a lot of time and is not always helpful in providing dating evidence. In the majority of cases we must rely upon our accumulated knowledge as collectors and some of the more general facts that history provides for us.

Refer to the article “The Evolution of the Tobacco Tin” and you will find many pointers that can help you refine the date range further. The combination of age, condition and rarity determines the value which must be agreed between buyer and seller, and the more facts you have about the tin then the better positioned you are to make a good bargain.

Remember - Rarity means how often the particular tin is seen for sale, not the seller claiming that it is rare!

Copyright (c) 2017 john turner