Potato Chip Tins

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Above – Entrance to Antique Advertising Tins exhibit at Keller History Museum

Introduction to this chapter

from Mike Reilly 8/5/98

     Hello, I’ve been collecting snack foodtins for the last several years. After getting internet access, I found other collectorswith similar interests. In general these collectors wanted to learn more about the extentof their collecting activities as well as of others. I also found that every book writtenabout tins covers this kind of collecting in but a superficial manner.


     Like their cousin the beer can, PTins(potato chip/pretzel/popcorn tins) had one, two or three faces. Cans from the 1930’s oninto the ’40’s usually had the label on only one side and most of them had dull surfacefinishes. The back space was used for manufacturer information, slogans, trademarks, andnutritional information about the product. Some manufacturers such as Waulter’s usedfour faces or panels, each face depicting a different advertising aspect.

    Another similarity for some companies was theuse of lid labeling. This enabled a company to package product varieties in the same tinswith only the lid label to identify whether it contained regular, cheese, or bar-be-quetypes. Charles Chips employed this with their products.

   As of yet, I haven’t heard of the practice ofover-painting labels. This was done with beer and other product cans to “recycle”over-runs, cancelled orders, etc..

Condition Notes

     Many of these type tins were reused by themanufacturer. They were returned to the plant where sanitized. If they weren’t properlydried, rust quickly formed on the inside surface and outside bottom edge. This extrahandling also shortened the tins useful life.

     Paper labels were often removed and thetin reused for the storage of other household goods such as flour, beans, etc. Others wereused to store sewing items like threads and yarns. Many times the lid was fitted with aknob to ease the tin opening, others had the lid slotted for use as a bank.

     Abrasion marks are very commonly found onthe tin body from the lid removal.

     Various companies destroyed their recycledtins when they were no longer fit for consumer use or when the decision was made toeliminate the tin packaging concept completely.

     From early delivery truck photos, it’sapparent that the tins were often stacked on top of one another without dividers betweenstacks, The tins were most likely handled in a rough fashion.

     There were also rare events that causedthe elimination of certain tin examples, such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor and thesubsequent near failure of Mrs. Japp’s Potato Chips.

     Certain other tins may also be in shortsupply due to the buy-out of the company. There are some brands that have severalvariations in their pictures/graphics/wording. Examples are NEW ERA and CHARLESCHIPS, but these two brand names are definitely NOT in the scare category.

     Tins that were only used by commercialsuppliers or distributors are again in short supply and were subject to rough use. Oftenthey just had paper labels glued to them.

     During the phase-out of Geiser’slithograph popcorn tins, they were temporarily replaced with plain yellow (some with blacklids) ones that had a simple product label cellophane taped to them.


Issley – Brooklyn, NY, c. 1865-1901.

Ginna – New York, NY, originated in the 1870’s.

Norton Bros. – Illinois, c. 1879-1901.

Somers Bros. – Brooklyn, NY, late 1870s (as early as 1869) – 1901.

Hasker & Marcuse – Richmond, Virginia, 1891-1901.

American Can Co. – Formed in 1901 from over 100 tin manufacturers

Continental Can Company – began early 1900’s, three large C’sindicated around 1950 while three smaller C’s are early 1950’s on. Up to the late 1960’sthe cans were soldered, then welded.

National Can Company – “National” appears in an outlinedmap of U.S. indicate 1950’s on, while “Patents Pending National Can” arepre-early 1940’s.

Pacific Can Company – “Pacific Can”, late 1930’s to 1955when they merged with National Can Co.

Cans Inc. – “Cans Inc.” early 1950’s. They merged withNational in 1953.

Heekin Can – started in 1901(was a div. of Diamond International) -“H” in a small circle, 1960’s. Purchased by Ball Corporation in March 1993.

Tindeco – formed around early 1900’s.

Reynolds Aluminum – “R” or others from 1963 on.

Zip Codes – The Zip Code was introduced in 1963 and can be found onmany tins manufactured since then in the company’s address.

UPC  (Universal Product Code) Label – Started in 1973 and found as apaper label addition or part of the lithograph.

More Notes

1960’s – Long used 3-piece soldered steel cans being replaced byaluminum or tin-free steel (TFS). Can making techniquesintroduced – drawn and ironed orcemented seams.

1966 – American Can introduces an adhesive or cemented bond for thethe can seam under the trade mark “Mira-Seam”.

Late-1960’s: Continental Can comes out with a solderless can underthe name “Conoweld”.

Both types eliminated the rough, wide, soldered seam panel, thuspermitting lithography almost completely around the can.

Cans made in the 1930’s and 40’s were substantial in constructionand relatively heavy. They were given thick label coatings, more than was later foundnecessary to maintain a good appearance. Older cans found may be in better conditionbecause of this construction and paint finish.

National Can used “National Can” in U.S. outline from1950’s to 1974.

Cans Inc. began in the 1950’s.

CANCO refers to the American Can Co.

A 3/3/4 oz (beer) can cost 2 1/2 cents in 1935, while in the1970’s, a 1 oz can cost 8-10 cents.

Straight soldered, no notches in seam were used from 1930’s untillate 1950’s. Some late 1950’s had three evenly spaced alignment notches.

     Telephone numbers on tins also give anidea of their age. In the Milwaukee area the old LIberty, LIncoln, BRoadway telephonenumbers with five digits began about about 1954/55. Around 1962, rural communities aroundthe cities of Milwaukee and Waukesha began using the full seven digit numbering system,The city of Waukesha finally switched over entirely in 1965. Up to the early 1950’s thetelephone companies used two to four digit numbers, sometimes with a hyphenatedlettersuffix.

        For collectors of potatochip tins the following information will also help determine the manufactured time period.

      In the mid-30’s a loosely knit Ohiopotato chip association was formed, later more formally the Ohio Potato Chip Association.

      During 1937, from this originalgroup, the Potato Chip Institute (PCI) was formed. They ordered a million paper labels,with a 1937 copyright, that was applied to the various packaging used at the time. Theslogan “King Of Potato Chips” and the familiar crown was also imprinted on it.As more members were added, the group changed it’s name to the National Potato Chip Institutein 1938.

      It wasn’t until 1959 that it wasagain changed, this time to the Potato Chip Institute International. Reasons being thatthe international market had been rapidly developing, the Canadians formed their ownCanadian Potato Chip Association on July 11, 1946 and by 1956 the NPCI had nineinternational members.

     To reflect the growing changes in thesnack food industry the group once again changed its name, to reflect the times, becomingthe Potato Chip/Snack Food Association (PC/SFA) in 1976. Eventually in 1986 after movinginto new headquarters, the group dropped the PC and formally became the Snack FoodAssociation.

     These snack food tins came in a variety ofsizes and colors. Some early ones only had a paper “face” label applied to thefront, others “wrap around” paper labels. The best are the enamel paintedlabels. Some of them were only painted “face”, though most covered the entiretin can and its lid. There are variations that in both paper and painted labels and it’s achallenge to find them all. One collector in Iowa has over 230 diff potato chips tinsalone. One word of caution, you need a lot of room to store a collection like this.



Most commonly collected are the 1 lb (16 ounce) andsmaller size tins. While some of the two and three pound tins might be as attractive orinteresting as their smaller versions, size plays the most important element in collectingpotato chip tins. Few collectors have the available space necessary to display and storeany sizable collection. With an average size of approx 7 1/2″ dia. x 9″ tall,shelf space is quickly gobbled up.


Though not as desirable to the collector, the largersize tins may be rarer. Several factors contribute to this. One, the larger tins were usedfor commercial accounts, such as taverns. Because commercial accounts were generally fewerthan retail sales (potato chips sold in grocery stores to customers), there were fewertins made. The tin was delivered to the establishment by a company salesman or independentsales representative. The tavern  or restaurant owner would then dish out servingsfrom the tin container.  The tin’s appearance was not something of importance tothese commercial users, so they were roughly handled and stored. Later, the empty tin(s)were picked up and returned to the company for sanitizing, then refilled with chips. Allof this abuse greatly reduced the tin’s useful life.

Because of the tin’s cost, many companies requireddeposits on them, just like that on glass milk, beer, and soda bottles. The amounts variedand could usually be found printed on the tin’s body, as part of the lithographing,stenciled or stamped, or on a paper sticker. Sometimes tins are found with several layersof stickers attached, revealing increases in the deposit amount. Few commercial customerssaved the tins because of the deposits they paid on them, opting rather to have theirmoney returned.

Between wearing out and changes in packaging, thesetins became quick junk pile victims or turned into mop or paint buckets. During the waryears, especially WWII, and periods of early environmental concerns about recycling, theselarge tins were quickly sent to the scrap heap.

Besides the potato chip companies selling directly tocommercial accounts, other commercial distributorships sold to the food service industry.A company like Ace Popcorn & Pretzel Co. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin soldsnack foods, in their own tins. These tins were usually stenciled or paper labeled. Theywere sent to a potato chip manufacturer, like Geiser’s, for filling thendistributed to their own customer accounts.

Most of these distributor tins are quite rare. Evenharder to find are those that one company had pirated. That is, they used anothercompany’s tins for their own use. This was done by applying a paper label or stenciling onthe tin’s lid or body.

As a collector, consider adding a couple of theselarger tins to your collection. They can sit on the floor, stored/displayed under a tableor wall shelf. If they’re clean and rust free, consider storing other items in them, butlimit the lid removal to lessen abrasion marks.

Sure signs of a tin’s usage are the abrasion marks leftfrom removing its’ lid, and while on this subject, consider this. Be sure your tin hasthe’ original lid with it. This  isn’t easy to know because it may have been soldwith a different color lid in the first place. A number of companies did this, and theycan be interchangeable, especially if the tin manufacturer was the same one. Knowledge isyour best defense here; getting a look at more than one example proves helpful. Potatochip manufacturers may have supplied a variety of lids with their products because ofavailable supplies drying up, or the original lid may have been damaged or lost. The bestbets for original lids are those that are lithographed with the brand name or otherevidence, but be careful here too. A Charles’ Cookie tin was recentlyoffered, as being rare, for auction with a lid advertising the company’s pretzels. Thiswas most likely a case of lid switching and shouldn’t be considered rare by any means.


Like other categories of tin collecting, those productsfrom national brands are less likely to be as valuable as your regional and local ones.Though just because a national brand may have produced more tins doesn’t mean there aren’tsome very valuable tins to collect. Examples are found from such companies as Jay’s,Kuehmann’s, Planter’s, and Humpty Dumpty.

Before the Jay’s brand name, the company,Select Foods, Inc., sold potato chips under the brand name, Mrs.Japp’s. Unfortunately for the business, the Japanese saw fit to bomb Pearl Harborsoon after it began marketing them. Anti-Japanese war sentiment nearly bankrupted thecompany if it hadn’t switched names to the much more acceptable, Jay’s. Manyof these early tins were destroyed or reused with the lithographing altered. Finding a Mrs.Japp’s lithographed tin in “Mint Condition” is extremely difficult.Collectors are drawn to the name Japp’s because of its’ wartime story, sopeople other than tin collectors have an interest. If a “mint” example was sold,it should command a price of over $500. In addition there are reports that there may betwo variations of this lithographed tin (this editor is unaware of the existence any paperlabel Mrs. Japp’s).

Next example is the Humpty Dumpty brandfrom Maine. Though more regional in nature, its’ association with the nursery rhyme anddelightful litho character invites collector attention from many. Early versions in”Mint Condition” could easily fetch several hundred dollars. The smallerversion, Humpty Dumpty, Jr. is especially wanted by collectors. Note: Thecompany exists today and sells their potato chips in colorful tins by mail order. To thenovice collector, one could be easily fooled into paying a great deal for one of these”new” tins, especially if they are found a little dirty and dented (somethingsellers could help along to fool potential buyers).

Who would have thought that a company known for its’peanuts and nut products could produce a tin, both rare and coveted by a great number ofcollectors. in 1947, Planter’s introduced their Planter’s Potato Chipsin a tin (there may be at least two varieties) and cellophane bags. Early collectors of Planter’stins and memorabilia were probably quick to recognize the chip tin’s potential value. Thefew tins coming on the open market are generally in average condition, so a tin in”Mint Condition” could very well be worth around $500.

Correction: Though Planter’s introduced theirpotato chips in 1947, the first tin may not have been used until the late 1960’s, early1970’s. The tin is still very valuable in Mint Condition.

The next big ticket item was produced in 1950 by theOhio potato chip firm called Kuehmann’s. Hopalong Cassidy memorabiliacomes in all types and potato chips in a tin were one of them. While somewhat common, it’shard to find examples in “Mint Condition”. An example may cost you severalhundred dollars.

Potato chip tins have been largely ignored over theyears except for a couple of pioneer collectors, and that has been only within the last 15years or so. While shunned by collectors, housewives and crafters have used chip tins fora variety of  uses. From saving coins in, to storing flour and knitting supplies,these tins have been slotted, vented, and labeled (to identify contents). Some of thehandled ones held paints and other damaging materials. Crafters have turned them into lampbases and other unusual items.

To the delight of potato chip tin collectors, there arehundreds of companies that sold their product(s) in tins. Not all manufacturers used tins,some, like Laura Scudder, were sold only in cellophane/plastic bags. Largerfirms may have used several different tins, in lithograph and paper label varieties. Lidsare an important factor for Charles’ tins since the type (regular, waffled,barbecue, etc.) was printed only on the lid.

One potato chip company, Geiser’s, nevermarketed their chips in tins but sold popcorn in a number of different sizes, includingsome end-of-the-era, extremely hard to find, paper label tins.

Collectors come across chip tins that look exactlyalike but note a difference in WEIGHT. One tin may say 16 ounces, another 14 or 15 oz.This is fairly common among brands. The reasons for it may be one or more explanations.Generally it is assumed that the manufacturer originally sold in the 16 oz. or 1 lb size.Due to chip making process changes, the chip weight could vary. Slice thickness, type offrying oil, potato moisture content could affect the product’s weight, resulting in fewerweighing more or more chips weighing less but taking up more volume. Another explanationmight be that the company decided to sell less chips in the tin. Higher per unit costs mayhave forced manufacturers to manipulate the contents in such a way as to appear the samebut producing a more profitable sale. Until a knowledgeable individual in the industrydiscloses the reasons for it, one can only speculate.

But a question to collectors – Does weight varianceconstitute a tin variation that should be considered different from those that otherwiselook identical? You might ask the same about a tin that looks identical except that thetin can manufacturer is different? I have two YO-HO brand  tins, theylook the same but the tin manufacturer is different. Collectors should carefully examinetheir tins and any possible future acquisitions to determine potential differences.