QUESTION: I’ve been working on my family’s genealogy and was going through some boxes of documents and such that have been passed down for several generations. In one of them I discovered some invitations and some small tinware items, plus an article from the social page of our local newspaper, dated June 30, 1908, which says, “ Ten years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Cameron celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary on June 24 with general jollification, and the musical tintinnabulation of a tin wedding. The couple sent out invitations, and at 3 P.M.on the 24th, about 70 well-pleased guests gathered at their home. The couple, decorated in artistically designed tin ornaments that caught and reflected the rays of the setting sun, greeted their guests, shared with them a bountiful meal, then unwrapped a myriad of tin gifts." I’ve never heard of a tin wedding anniversary. Was this something that people celebrated back then? And what about the tinware gifts? Are they collectible today?
ANSWER: During the 19th century, tenth wedding anniversary parties were all the rage among wealthy and middle class couples. The gift for this anniversary was tin which enabled guests to give some imaginative gifts.
Tinware is any item made of prefabricated tinplate. Usually, it refered to kitchenware made of tinplate, often crafted by tinsmiths. It’s strong, easily shaped, and corrosive resistant. Though tinplate originated in Bohemia during the Middle Ages, it didn’t becomean industry until the rolling mill was invented in 1728. By 1890, England dominated the market for tinware.
Tinware production in the United States began when a Scottish immigrant named Edward Pattison settled in Berlin, Hartford Country, Connecticut. His tinware goods became extremely popular due to their ease of use and cleaning. To help fulfill tinware orders, he took on apprentices, which later helped to make Berlin, Connecticut, the center of tinware manufacturing in the American Colonies.
Traveling salesmen called Yankee Peddlers usually sold tinware. These Yankee Peddlers were both employees of tinware shops or independent. Often, they traded tinware for “Truck”, or bartered items, which tin shopkeepers then sold in their stores.
Coffeepots and spice boxes were once the traditional gifts at a tenth wedding anniversary celebration. Utilitarian tin vessels, custom-made by the village tinsmith, blended in with tinware crafted for everyday kitchen use. Couples also received tin miniatures and whimsies.
Sometimes, couples sent out tin-edged invitations. Guests who couldn’t attend the festivities sent tin cards of regret. Those who planned to attend the party visited their local tinsmith to commission a gift reflecting the couple’s individual personalities and their interests.
A miniature tin hoe, rake and spade with turned wood handles would have delighted a housewife/gardener. Friends saw to it that she was also well supplied with tin adornments for her person, including tin curls, tin cuffs, a tin crown, and a very feminine brooch-and-earrings set. The husband, on the other hand, may have received a tin photograph album and stereopticon, as well as a tin pipe and an oversized pocket watch.
Tin, being a particularly malleable metal, lent itself to a seemingly limitless variety of forms. Flowing shapes, like ribbons, or delicately curved flower petals were easily achieved, as were wire-mesh, linked-chain, intricate filigree and stamped, textured surfaces. Tinsmiths polished most pieces to a bright shine, but also painted others or coated them with black asphaltum.
Tinsmiths who worked daily making and repairing skimmers and cake tins welcomed the chance to try their hand at any number of amusing objects. At times they even signed and dated their works of art. While they often crafted top hats and bonnets in the same size as their real-life counterparts, they produced other tin pieces either larger than life or smaller. A person who used a lot of salt on their food may have received a two-foot-tall salt shaker or one whos didn’t cook very much may have received a tiny tin step stove with a miniature kettle and pot.
A banker may have received a folded tin wallet marked "legal tinder,” filled with oversized tin "dollars.”. And someone who loved to play bridge may have received a full deck of boxed tin playing cards featuring photographs of the luminaries of the day.
Tradition for tenth wedding anniversary parties dictated that the original wedding party, family and intimate friends be invited, although friends sometimes converged on the couple with a surprise shower of tinware. American newspapers from the mid-1800s to 1910 .documented tin "showers" as a popular social event.
Women's magazines of the day had many suggestions for planning such parties, including the arrangement of flowers for the table in a tin bucket flanked by tin candlesticks. Food might be served from tin plates lined with paper doilies, and dessert passed in individual tin patty pans. Tin cups were used for punch or coffee. And the bride herself might carry a wedding bouquet fittingly arranged in a petite tin funnel.
Though mention of tin wedding anniversary celebrations can be found as late as 1923, they had all but died out by 1910.
In the years following tin anniversary parties of the 19th century, the gifts often would end up scattered among the celebrants' families, lost, or recycled in war scrap-metal drives. Most families didn’t have the luxury of space to save their tenth anniversary tinware gifts.
Prices for tenth anniversary tinware today range from $25 for a punched napkin holder to $200 for a tin coffeepot and more than $1,000 for a tin bonnet. But finding any tinware wedding gift items can be a challenge.
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