Biscuit tins are utilitarian or decorative containers used to package and sell biscuits (the flat, crisp English sorts often served with tea) and some confectionery. They are commonly found in households in the United Kingdom and commonwealth countries.
Because of their attractive appearance, biscuit tins have often been used by charities and by some visitor attractions as fundraising devices since the value of the biscuits in a biscuit tin is substantially less than the price that many customers will happily pay for a tin of biscuits.
Origin and history
Biscuit tins are made of tin plate. This consists of iron sheets thinly coated with tin by being dipped into the liquid metal. The sheets are then bent to shape. By about 1850 Britain had become the dominant world supplier of tin plate, through a combination of technical innovation and political control over most of the suppliers of tin ore. Biscuit tin manufacture was a small but prestigious part of the vast industry of tin plate production, which saw a huge increase in demand in the 19th century was directly related to the growing industrialisation of food production, by increasingly sophisticated methods of preservation and the requirements made by changing methods of distribution.
The earliest decorated biscuit tin was commissioned in 1868 by Huntley & Palmers from the London firm of De La Rue to a design by Owen Jones. Early methods of printing included the transfer process (essentially the method used to decorate porcelain and pottery since about 1750) and the direct lithographic process, which involved laying an inked stone directly on to a sheet of tin. Its disadvantage was that correct colour registration was difficult. The breakthrough in decorative tin plate production was the invention of the offset lithographic process. It consists of bringing a sheet of rubber into contact with the decorated stone, and then setting-off the impression so obtained upon the metal surface. The advantages over previous methods of printing were that any number of colours could be used, correctly positioned, and applied to an uneven surface if necessary. Thus the elaborately embossed, colourful designs that were such a feature of the late Victorian biscuit tin industry became technically possible.
Works of art for the home
Biscuit tins have always been more than just containers. The manufacturers aimed to make products which would be enjoyed beyond the life span of the biscuits themselves.
Tins shaped like actual objects began to be made in the late 1890s. The earlier tins were shaped like baskets but gradually a whole range of fine art objects appeared. Biscuit tins were no longer aimed merely at children at the Christmas market. They had become useful and decorative parts of the middle class home.
Replicas of Chinese vases could be used as such when the biscuits had been eaten. Boxes imitating porcelain, Wedgwood china or fine wooden boxes mimicked the wonderful objects found in grand houses or in museums.
The First World War saw a break in the supply of decorated biscuit tins. Many manufacturers hesitated to resume production of "fancy" tins once the restrictions had been lifted. Children however had a strong influence on the market and ensured the survival of well designed, elaborately shaped tins.
Shop biscuit tins
British biscuit manufacturers supplied grocer's shops with biscuits packed into large tins, typically containing 7 pounds (3.2 kilograms). These would be displayed in the shop, and the shopkeeper would weigh out the required amount of biscuits into a paper bag for each customer. Some tins had a glass panel in the lid, so that customers could see the biscuits inside.
- Museum of Reading - Biscuit Tin collection
- Dogs Trust - Robin Biscuit tin
- Girl Guides New Zealand - Biscuit Tin
- "Vintage 1950s Huntley & Palmers Shop Biscuit Tin". www.skinnerandhyde.co.uk. Retrieved 29 November 2013.
Media related to Biscuit tins at Wikimedia Commons