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Tinsmithing  
 
  by William McMillen, Don Carpentier, and Nicholas Coletto
   
  Few things better exemplify the impact of the industrial revolution in 19th century England and America than the explosion of tinware, the rapid evolution of it’s manufacturing processes and the profusion of tin pieces it produced. By the end of the century virtually every household utensil was made of tin.

The burgeoning world of science and technology created new applications for tin such as cases for ground lenses, lighting devices of every kind, and other industrial products.

The emergent middle class possessed the aspiration to enjoy things traditionally reserved for the upper classes. Upper class amenities emulated in tin reflected their new status.The new world was also a rough and tumble place. Tin’s durability allowed for shipping over rough roads and great distances.

An array of items from milk pans, down spouts and buckets to tubing and lighting instruments made life easier from farm to factory. As artisans from other crafts moved into the tin trades new elements of form and style were introduced to tinware. Many of the shapes and decorations mirror those of pottery and other art forms.

The proliferation of new machinery for the manufacture of tinware greatly increased the production capability of the tin shop. The additional income generated by these expanding enterprises capitalized other business ventures giving rise to such companies as Sears and Roebuck, the Fuller Brush Company, and International Silver.

The first machine patent for tin ware manufacture dates to 1806 and was granted to Calvin Whiting and Eli Parsons. Seth Peck was one of the early purchasers of the Whiting/Parsons patent and his machines became widely used during the 1820's and 1830's. It was typical of the time for about 20 years to elapse between the introduction of new technology and the adoption of that technology by the tinsmith.

Until the first decade of the 19th century, virtually all tinware was manufactured by "hand process" both in Europe and America utilizing stakes, hammers, mandrels, and molds.

Edmond Pattison, an immigrant Scot, living in Berlin, Connecticut was colonial America’s earliest tinsmith of record. He made by hand what were probably the first tin plated household utensils produced in the American colonies.

Raw tinplate and holloware was imported from the mills of Pontypool near Monmouthshire, Wales. This hot-dipped sheet iron was used almost exclusively until the late 1800's. Hot-dipped sheet steel appears about 1860 and the smooth electroplated version first appears about 1890.

Sheets of tin plate were shipped to America in boxes made of elm wood which were branded or stenciled with symbols and numbers which indicated sized of sheet, weight, and quality of plating.

By the 1860's newly developed companies were offering prefabricated and pre-cut parts which the tinsmith could purchase and assemble into whole items in his shop. While enabling the tinner to increase his production capacity dramatically, this process of prefabrication eventually led to the machine manufacturing of complete items by the late 19th century

Thus displaced from their traditional profession by the new machines, the tinsmiths turned their skills to the heating, plumbing and roofing trades of today.

Today the tin trade is being carried on by such people as William McMillen who practices his craft at New York’s Staten Island Historic Richmandtown where he is the supervisor of restoration. He has spent the last 25 years researching techniques, collecting and restoring tools and practicing the craft of reproducing 19th century tinware.

   
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