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April 2013

American Painted Tinware (aka Toleware)

Painted tinware can be found in many early American collections. Commonly referred to as toleware, these pieces are made of tinned metal that has been lacquered or varnished. It can be utilitarian or decorative, but invariably bears a painted design or picture.

In the 17th century, Europeans developed the technique of “japanning” items to imitate oriental lacquered objects. Since the sap from the Japanese lac tree used to make the lacquer was not available in Europe, other substances had to be used to imitate the hard shiny surface. Initially, the decorations had an Asian style as it spread across Europe. It was called tôle peinte (French for "painted sheet iron"), painted tin, or simply tole. Early English tole was painted pewter and expensive. But by the early to mid-1700s, inexpensive painted tin was being manufactured in England and shipped to the colonies.

As with many imported items, American artisans quickly began producing toleware. As early as 1740, Irish tinsmith, Edward Pattison, settled in Berlin Connecticut and began importing sheet tin from England to produce cooking utensils. With the assistance of his brother William and other family members, they began selling the tin from door to door and soon Berlin became the center of a thriving tin industry. A 1749 English law made it illegal to produce tin in the colonies so initially it had to be imported – sheet tin wasn’t produced in America until the 1830s. Even with having to import the materials, it was still a very lucrative business.

painted tinware
Collection of Painted Tinware

The earliest tin was undecorated but by the late 18th century decorated tin became more common. It was initially decorated by skilled workmen trained in the techniques used abroad. Soon, however, the rural tinsmiths began to turn out a type of simply painted tin in family workshops in Connecticut, Maine, New York, and Pennsylvania. The men worked the tin and peddled it from town to town, while their wives and daughters “flowered” the finished pieces with paint. Prominent makers include the Stevens and Buckley shops near Portland, Maine; the Boynton Shop in Massachusetts; the North Shop in Otsego County, New York; and the Butler Shop in Green County, New York.

Rarely was American painted tin signed by the maker and since tinsmiths often sold their wares in a wide area, attribution can be hard to determine. However, there are some general regional characteristics that can be useful. Designs painted on bands of white can indicate Connecticut production; the extensive use of many colors, sometimes blended, or a bold elaborate border design can suggest Maine; and a crystallized appearance or unusual color combinations and ‘thumb work’ can suggest a Pennsylvania origin. Pennsylvania continued producing painted tin into the 1870s.

Toleware forms suggest fancy display and storage. Typical pieces include trays, teapots, cheese cradles, caddies, breadboxes, and document boxes. Early toleware should show evidence of hand manufacture and hand painting or stenciling. Toleware was also produced from the 1920s to 1940s and can exhibit the same painting techniques, compositions, and color combinations as the earlier forms. Therefore, careful examination is important to determine the age of a piece.

There is some argument that toleware technically only refers to the original French heavy-iron trays decorated in 18th Century France so we should not refer to American painted tin using that term. But alas, almost a hundred years of common usage by the decorative arts community and antique dealers/collectors likely means that referring to American painted tinware as toleware is here to stay.

Search for toleware or painted tin on Dig Antiques.


A Tribute to Marcia’s Mom
Written by Guest Columnist: Lyn Andeen

I recently made a new friend. We met in line at a local estate sale. We like different kinds of antiques so it works out nicely that we are not competing for the same items.

We had each other over to our houses to see what we collected.  She has great eclectic taste.  While I was looking around she pointed out an old tin cup on a shelf. At first glance it was just that... an old tin cup.

old tin cup

Then Marcia shared its history. Marcia’s Mom went to a one room school house. The teacher, as a special treat, would walk around with the tin cup with penny candy in it.

What makes this cup really special is that in her Mom’s adult life the one room school house burned down. In the ruins her Mom found the old tin cup.

The true value of this cup isn’t its "book" value but its memories. We all have something that has little "book" value but is like that old tin cup…Priceless.

About Lyn Andeen
Lyn Andeen has been an avid collector and dealer for the past 28 years. She has been in group shops, setup at countless antique shows and has a true artistic eye. Lyn's passion is for quality 18th through early 20th century Americana, decorative arts, Shaker and folk art. You can find Lyn online through Andeen Antiques.


Once Again, A Collective Breath

With the tragic events at the Boston Marathon earlier this month, we were once again reminded of how fragile life can be. We immediately felt connected to the events unfolding - not because we were at the finish line, or knew anyone directly effected or because we ever ran the Boston marathon. We were connected because 24 years ago, we delightfully had our son at Newton-Wellesley Hospital as the Boston Marathon runners were passing the hospital. After Josh was born, we stood at the window watching the runners!

With Facebook, Twitter, email and other online methods of communicating, when a tragedy happens, we are all feel so much more connected. No waiting days to hear the news. We could immediately reach out to our family and friends to check up. Our hearts go out to those that were hurt and to the family members that lost love ones.

We would like to welcome our newest Shop to Dig Antiques, please check out and welcome J Compton Gallery to our Shops on Dig Antiques.

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