Are you a collector? I don’t mean someone who rattles a plastic box trying to get cash for charity; or someone who goes around on a big lorry in the early morning collecting the rubbish from our bins.
I’m talking about things like stamps; or coins; or teddy bears; or beermats.
I am sure that most people at some time have collected something.
When I was young I did try stamp collecting but thought it too much hassle to sort them out, identify the country and then use those little bits of paper to stick them on the correct page of an album.
After that I didn’t really bother with collecting until I became a journalist and collected stories and news clippings.
Recently, however, I discovered I had become an accidental collector.
No, that doesn’t mean I collect accidents, or chase round looking for accidents and taking photographs.
The trouble is I don’t know what term describes me.
A stamp collector is a philatelist; a coin collector is a numismatist; a collector of teddy bears is an arctophile; even collectors of what appear to be odd things have names: fusilatelists collect phone cards issued by different phone companies; falerists or philarests study and collect medals, badges.
Even collectors of beermats have their own name – tegestologists.
So what do I collect – tins.
Not empty soup tins, or chopped tomato tins – advertising tins. That is tins which once contained biscuits, or sweets or items such as OXO cubes.
I didn’t buy these because I wanted the tins – when we bought them they were filled with OXO cubes and the price was the same as buying the cubes packaged in cardboard. It also means we can keep OXO beef, lamb, chicken and vegetable cubes separate, or even put other brand cubes in them.
In fact I have never bought a tin that didn’t have something in it and in the main the price has normally covered the contents with no extra charge for the tin.
Over the years we have bought many things that came in tins and then utilised the tins for other purposes. I don’t think of myself as a glass jar collector just because I keep various baking ingredients in glass jars.
So what made me realise I had become a tin collector?
I was taking down our Christmas decorations, ready to pack them away until December 2022, when I started to count the tins we use for the baubles, the beads and the small items we put on the boughs around the room.
We started buying a tin of Quality Street at Christmas when we settled back in North Wales in 1988 after two years in Oman. It became a new tradition (just as we had a tradition of Christmas stockings which could be opened first thing and presents under the tree which were only dished out after everyone was dressed and had eaten breakfast) and not many Christmases passed without a new tin.
We now have over 25 of them and I think that signifies a collection.
I have to admit that it doesn’t stop with the Quality Street tins and the OXO tins. I do have one or two others. Well maybe more than one or two.
There are the Cadburys tins which once held Cadburys fingers. These include one shaped like a drum, four or five oblong tins with old-fashioned advertising images (even though the tins are late 20th century) and even a stacking set of three which held mini-fingers.
Then again there are shortbread biscuit tins and Christmas biscuit tins along with tins from bottles of single malt whiskey and even two different tins made to look like London buses.
As I said I do utilise these tins for various baking goods, caster sugar, demerera, Muscovado sugar, icing sugar, rice flour . . .
I also use seasonal biscuit tins for the purpose they were created – to store my home-baked biscuits.
I could show you more but I think I have confessed enough.
I did think back to where this all began. What was my first tin?
I lay it all at the feet of my Auntie Flo, mum’s aunt really as she was my grandmother’s sister. She and Uncle Bill (her husband and my grandfather’s cousin) had no children but they did have an old-fashioned sweet shop, run by Flo, and a newsagent’s shop, run by Uncle Bill, on opposite sides to West Derby Road in Liverpool. We used to visit them four or five times a year and there would be comics to read and sweets to be consumed.
I remember one Christmas in the 1950s when they sent my brother, my sister and myself a tin of sweets each. My tin, which contained toffees, was rectangular with a hinged lid, in silver (the colour not the metal) and blue with a raised decoration on the top showing a country scene.
Once I finished the toffees (probably Boxing Day knowing me) I used that tin to store my “treasures” (an interesting pebble, a shell from the beach, a fluffy feather from a baby bird) and later it became a place to keep pencils and pens. It’s still around, somewhere, but my study is all over the place at the moment and I’d have to carry out a major search.
I think I know how I came to like tins for keeping things in. My mother used to have a Quality Street tin, possibly from the 1930s, and a lot smaller than modern ones. she used it to keep buttons, snipped off old clothing, or a “spare” which you used to get with any clothes, although now it is mainly with shirts and trousers.
We used to use those buttons (some of which probably went back to the 1920s or even pre-WW1) as tokens when playing cards. As it happens that is something else people collect, buttons.
I just wish I knew what to call myself now that I know I am a collector.