My love for biscuit tins happened quite accidentally. If you are a frequent reader of Buying and Selling Antiques, you know we started importing our own containers from England in 1991. We would occasionally get fairly modern biscuit tins that we sold in the $5-$30 price range. Many people bought them to give as gifts with home made cookies inside them. Others bought them because of the English scenes on them. By the way, the English word for cookies is biscuits. So biscuit tins held cookies.
Wonderful Biscuit Tins
Back to the story of how I fell in love with English biscuit tins. A regular customer of ours told us about buying this biscuit tin for $495 and sold it for $595 to another customer who saw it on the counter at the antique mall where she bought it. She made a $100 without ever taking it out of the store. Since our most expensive biscuit tin had been around $30, I wanted to know more, much more about this biscuit tin and what made at least two people want this particular tin. What was it about a biscuit tin that made it worth this kind of money. Had both of these women lost their minds, was this just a one of a kind item, or were this biscuit tin really worth that much.
History and Makers of Biscuit Tins
She told me this was a biscuit tin made by a company called Huntley and Palmers in 1901. She said it was one of a series and it looked like a stack of books held together with a belt fastened around the books.. There is a photo of one of the tins included. I think you can see why people fell in love with these beautiful biscuit tins. I also learned this was one of the most popular British biscuit tins ever produced. It is also one of the first tins that serious collectors try to find. Because of the novel ideas behind their design, many of these tins survived. Finding the ones in near mint condition is the difficult part. I have had customers actually think they were books, because they are so realistic looking. After doing some research on the internet I discovered that Huntley & Palmers were the leading seller of biscuit tins in England. The English biscuit tins were the most original and collectible biscuit tins.
But Huntley and Palmers were by no means the only company that made the unusual biscuit tins. I will focus on them now and discuss some of the other companies and their products later. Biscuit tins were first produced in the mid 1800s. We are going to focus on the ones from 1868. There is an excellent book, Biscuit Tins 1868-1939, that has excellent pictures and information, but unfortunately there is not a price guide included. As far as I know there is not a good price guide focusing on just biscuit tins. There fore you will see a wide price range for the same biscuit tin. If you go to England on an antiques buying trip you will find it is nearly impossible to buy these wonderful tins from a biscuit tin specialist. There prices are just over the top. You have to really search and try to find one here and one there.
But back to the history, sorry for getting off track. The earliest tins were more functional than beautiful. But toward the end of the nineteenth century they started getting more colorful and more decorative. As the technology of making biscuit tins improved and progressed, the makers took advantage of the processes and started making the figural tins, tins resembling something else. The attention to detail on some of these tins is amazing. If you look closely at the books tin, which is actually titled “Literature” you will see the tab to open it is a book marker. The pages are marbleized. Each of the titles are actual book titles and the covers resemble embossed leather. They are like little works of art. I will try to find enough photos to make a video showing just some of the many tins from this time.
Some of the other famous biscuit tin sellers of this time were Carr & Co., William Crawford & Sons, MacFarlane, Land & Co., and Peek, Frean, and Co. There were others, but those were the most prominent ones. There were some other tins that were not biscuit tins that are also highly collectible such as some of the tins by the Victory V Gum company. A couple of my favorite tins, one showing an American Indian riding a horse on one side and an Arabian riding a horse on the other, is very collectible.
The British love for royalty is also depicted in their biscuit tins. Going back to Queen Victoria, nearly all major weddings and coronations had biscuit tins made to commemorate them. Biscuit tins are still in production today and no doubt some of them will become collectible in the future. I have two different Winston Churchill tins in my personal collection of Churchill items. But the late 1800s through the 1930s were the heyday of British biscuit tins.
I might add that people use some of these unique tins to make beautiful lamps. There are so many different tins that it is impossible to collect them all. So some collectors will collect only from one company, which is usually Huntley and Palmers. For some reason these biscuit tins are not quite as popular as they were just four or five years ago. But in the present economy, that can be said about most things That will give you a good excuse to get some greast values on these unique little English biscuit tins.