Since writing my original article on the subject of Welsh miners' tobacco tins I have received a considerable amount of additional information that should be of particular interest to collectors of these tins plus to those who collect general mining memorabilia. It is now made obvious that these tins were more widely used both in terms of owner's occupation and by regional distribution than has been previously recognised. I am grateful to Graham Smith for most of the information reproduced below - for which I am solely an amanuensis. I am sure that collectors will appreciate the availability of these otherwise very difficult to obtain details.
Tins bearing inscribed dates from 1857 to 1937 have been reported, with the most common dates occurring between 1880 and 1914. The metal most often used in the construction of these tins is brass, as we well know. Usually oval and dated, stamped with the name (and sometimes full address) of the owner, they are often hand stamped with a decorative pattern, and may include also the owner's occupation. They were certainly used for twist tobacco and not snuff. The tobacco was chewed mainly to assist/increase saliva production to take up coal dust and enable it to be spat out. Pit ponies were also given chewed tobacco to deworm them.
In addition to the usual use of brass, tobacco tins are also known to have been made from the following;
White metal/nickel - Tins made of these metals are sometimes plain with incuse lettering etc, but often made very ornate by incuse hand patterning.
Copper - A few tins have been noted made of this metal, with one obviously made by the owner, a Blacksmith.
Silver - At least one tin has been seen, and that has the same basic design as per the usual brass ones.
Aluminium - At least one tin is known in this metal.
Horn - Art least one example is known in this material. This particular tin has been inlaid with brass plate indicating the owner and place - the 'Collier's Arms' Pengam. Burnt into the horn are tiny mining symbols - handsaw, pickaxe, shovel etc.
Although primarily of Welsh origin such tobacco tins are certainly not exclusive to Wales. Tins from Wincanton (Somerset), Cheltenham, Oxfordshire and North Staffordshire have been seen, including a typical oval one made of white metal from Edinburgh. One overseas collector of mining memorabilia has recently reported a tin found bearing a Welsh personal name and street address which may have originally originate from the once mining community of Mitaggong in New South Wales, Australia. This particular brass tin is of the typical oval type and measures approximately 74 mm long by 40 mm wide and 17 mm deep. It has a single hinge along the centre of its back side. The tin bears the following personal details and date - 28/2 EVAN REES 1903 / GWYN STREET which are engraved around a central depiction of a miner's pick, safety lamp and shovel . The address on this tin is reported to be that of a location in Mittagong south of Sydney although this is not conclusive of its manufacture in Australia as there are several "Gwyn Streets" scattered throughout mining communities within the South Wales Coalfield in the United Kingdom.
Although not exclusive to Wales it is likely that these types of tobacco tins did originate in this area and that their very distinctive design and concept was then exported into other mining areas along with the movement of welsh miners around both the United Kingdom and the British Empire.
Several tins are obviously "home made". The majority are anonymous, but well made possibly on moulds or patterns by local tinsmiths. A number are reputed to have been made by colliery blacksmiths. It is also now believed that John Jones, the maker of the famous Pontyberem lamps, possibly also made tobacco boxes. It has been reported that at least one example of his work still survives in his family to this day.
Only two maker's names in full have been seen - Thomas Evans and Sam Thomas, both in Treherbert on boxes dated 1894 - 1908. The incuse initials "P W" have been noted on the side of heavily decorated white metal boxes dated between 1902 - 1921, all with locations near Pontypool, e.g. Pontymoile, Cwmffrwdoer etc. One is marked with the occupation of "Stoker", Tirpentws. These were made by Phillip Williams, Lampman at Tirpentwys Colliery. He lived in a house by the railway bridge at Cwmffrwdoer, Pontypool.
Occupations stamped on tins:
These include Bandsman, Banksman (Colliery), Blacksmith, Carpenter, Collier, Contractor, Corn Merchant, Doctor, Doubler (Tin plate worker), Engineman (No 3 Griffin Colliery), Engineman (Rhondda & Swansea Bay Railway), Farmer, Fireman (Colliery), Founder (Dowlais Works), Furnaceman, Haulier (most likely Colliery), Joiner, Jubilee Stores (Shop), Labourer, Miner, Mason, Overman, Pilot (Ships-Bristol), Policeman, Publican, Rider (? Colliery), Saddler, Sett Maker (Road Cobbles. Stone quarry area North Wales), Shoe maker, Sinker, Stoker (Tirpentwys Colliery), Sugar Boiler, Timberman (Colliery?), Vicarage.
Tall Tobacco Storage Tins:
These consist of a tall vertical cylinder with an inner sliding container removable from the base. All of what appear to be manufactured ones have oval bracteate maker's plates. Two consistent sizes (to between 2-3mm) of storage tin have been seen: small 53mm width x 118mm height, and large 65mm width x 135-146mm height. All have patterns of horizontal bands rolled into the brass. Some have three adjoining bands, some have two. See the illustrations below. All the tins appear the same as if brass sheet was a standard product.
Figure 1.0: Two varieties of Twist Storage Tins. These examples illustrate both the double and triple pattern of paired parallel ornamental edge bands.
Figure 2.0: Further examples of double and triple banded storage tin designs displaying makers plates.
Figure 3.0: Close ups of storage tin makers labels. Left - Pardoe on ribbon below a "fleur De Leys" design. This example of a tin 53 mm x 118 mm with a pair of triple parallel bands. Right - Thos. Perkins / Maker / Aberdare, on a tin 53 mm x 118 mm with a pair of double parallel bands.
Figure 4.0: Tobacco Storage Tin makers labels. Left - Geo Phillips / Wholesale and Retail / Tinware/ Manufacturer / Ferndale; on a tin 63 mm x 134 mm with a pair of double parallel bands. Right - J.L.L. Thomas / Maker / Mountain Ash; on a tin 63 mm x 134 mm with a pair of triple parallel bands.
Figure 4.0: Tobacco Storage Tin makers labels. Left - W. Harper / Maker / Ebbw Vale; on a tin 63 mm x 134mm with a pair of double parallel bands. Right - W. Smith / Maker / Porth; on a tin 67 mm x 136 with a pair of double parallel bands.
Note: All the makers plates illustrated above are bracteate, some worn with polishing. They are all secured with solder except for the example by Perkins of Aberdare, which has two tiny rivets as per those used to fasten manufacturer's name plates onto miner's lamps.
am sure that other readers have, or may come across further examples that would
be worth adding to this subject, and I look forward to seeing them in due
although mentioned in the list of commonly collected types of mining memorabilia
on the NMMA’s website, there has been nothing written to date regarding either
miner’s tobacco tins or snuff boxes.
I am indebted to Graham Smith for most of the above information and illustrations. I would also like to thank Steve McCabe of Australia for details of the tin from Mittagong, NSW.
Based on an article in NMMA Newsletter No.32, Summer 2003. © David Shaw & Graham Smith.