Big thank you from

A fond look back at the implements of the 'tin age'

By the Rambler 03/11/00

MUCH has been written about the Ice Age, the iron age, the Bronze Age, etc, but I won't go that far back. I intend to recall the Tin Age when street directories featured a significant number of tinsmith's aka 'tinkers'.

Before the advert of motorised traffic, rural roads had hen men, fish men, coal men, rag men, pickle men, bread men, tinkers and so on, all hawking their wares. The tinsmiths had big cans (pails) milk cans, beakers, dishes (basins), tea-drawers, 'Billy' cans and all kinds of domestic utensils, including paraffin oil containers. I grew up in a sea of tinplate.

Pint tins and half-pint tins for every day use as beakers were swung on large wire hoops from which the vendors unstrung them. They came at one penny each and domestically they were simply termed tins. "A tin was a tin, was a tin," as Maggie Thatcher might have said. The standard tin beaker held exactly one pint of liquid, ie it doubled as a measure.

In fact, many tin vessels were measures: pint, half-pin t, quart, up to nine quart! 'Sweet" milk and buttermilk were sold in those quantities, as of course was beer (porter)


Around the fireside the pint tin was always In circulation.

One sat beside the huge earth-ware crock which held spring water and was used to fill the kettle, the saucepan or any other vessel. It had the advantage of being indestructible, even if laid dawn on the top of a hot cooking range.

Being squat, and flat bottomed it did not 'coup' easily,

In Ulster, vessels do not overturn: they coup.

The tinker who made a tin for one penny certainly earned his 'wing'. I studied metal work at the Tec' and I had to make one, hence I know.

First we used our knowledge of mechanical drawing to develop the shape, then we cut out all the components from a sheet of tinplate and a length of wire.

The sides and bottom had to he formed lot, a circular vessel with the aid of tinplate shears and solder. Before they were assembled, the raw top edge had to be rolled around a hoop of the wire. Finally, a hooked handle had to be fashioned, also cut of sheet tinplate with the raw edges turned around the wire, as with the rim of the vessels and riveted to the side of the beaker. A long, tedious job for a greenhorn but fun to the skilled tinsmith.


Ours was supposed to end up perfectly cylindrical. Mine wasn't! Obviously, I wasn' t cut out to be a tinker.

I must not forget the ubiquitous tin bucket so essential for carrying water or other liquids and for feeding livestock.

If there are any readers around who ever fed a young calf from a zinc bucket they are almost certain to remember getting a sore shin when the calf gave the empty bucket a buck with its snout - as it would have done if it had been drinking from its mother's teat and intent on persuading her to let down some more juice!

Young calves were universally dubbed 'suckle calves' but I'll bet any reader who suffered an abrased shin bone had a more colourful term. I know I certainly had.

Ulster Star