The history of tinsmithing

Written by christy p
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The history of tinsmithing
Tin cups were a popular product of tinsmithing. (tin cup image by michael langley from

A tinsmith, also known as a whitesmith, was usually a man, who made or repaired tin items. The practice of tinsmithing, or making and repairing items of tinplate arrived in the United States in approximately 1720. Tinplate is created in a process where thin steel is dipped multiple times into molten tin, thus plating it in tin. This process prevents the items from rusting.


In the 1700s, England banned the making of tinplate in the colonies. This ban limited the amount of tinsmithing materials that were available in the colonies. In turn this controlled the amount of tinsmithed goods that could be produced in the colonies.

Fur Trade

Tinsmithed items were popular among the fur traders. Tinplate cups and plates were among the personal items of the traders that were mentioned in traders journals. Also mentioned within the journals and inventories of the traders were tin basins, pans, funnels and tin kettles. Tin boxes called dispatch boxes were used to carry company correspondences. Tinplate is thin and objects rusts away quickly, or becomes broken or twisted easily. The tinplated items unearthed by archeologists are often impossible to identify for these reasons, due to their condition.

Family Business

Tinsmithing was mostly done by men with the assistance of male apprentices. Apprenticeship usually lasted for four to six years. Or tinsmithing could be a family business with then men and boys producing the products and the women and girls polishing them and preparing them for sale. Common items made were cups, plates, funnels, bowls and candleholders.


Tinsmithing was a simpler process than blacksmithing not require a forge, nor the abundance of tools needed for blacksmith work. This simplicity made tinsmithing a popular trade. Hammers of iron and hammers of rawhide, tin snips, punches, nippers and shears, a soldering iron and a light weight anvil were all the tools needed to work the tinplate.


Up until 1804, tinsmithed items were made one by one, by hand. This process was long and labour intensive. After the war of 1812 the tinplate prices stabilised, as well as the availability of the plate. Then two men Eli Parsons, and Calvin Whiting created the first geared machinery to produce tinsmithing work. These machines cut down on the hand work and sped up the process of tinsmithing.

Tinkers And Tinsmiths

Tinsmiths made and repaired items of tinplate. No professional tinsmith would have accepted being called a tinker. Tinkers were roaming metal workers that repaired dented or broken metal ware and did not create such items on their own.

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