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Odd collection

Vintage advertising items among reminders of a beloved uncle
By Glen Liford, Editor 8/23/2021


These colorful tin tags were a part of the packaging of chewing tobacco plugs from about 1870 to the 1930s and ensured users the product was the brand they had purchased and not been tampered with. The quarter in the center gives an idea of scale.
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A while back, I was going through a box of random keepsakes that had been in my garage since my uncle, Clay Butcher, passed away in 2010. The collection of items were remnants from his antique rolltop desk. 

Why I had waited so long to go through the items is a mystery even to me. The box had been sitting near the door to the house, and I must have walked by it thousands of times, but never found the time to complete what should have been an easy task of sorting through the contents, discarding what was of no use to me and finding a permanent place for the rest. 

I’m not sure if it was grief that kept me from confronting the mess or just a severe case of procrastination. But when I finally dug deep into the cardboard container, I was pleasantly surprised as I found plenty of reminders of Uncle Butch and his meticulous nature. 

He grew up during the Depression, and I’m sure those tough times shaped his behavior. He was frugal to a fault and knew how to stretch a dollar. The contents of the box reflected this philosophy as well. It was stocked to the brim with nothing really important, but in as neat a way as possible. 

Perhaps one of the best examples of his personality was one cylinder about the size of a paper towel tube that was carefully wrapped in brown craft paper with sturdy packing tape securing the seams. It had a serious heft, and I was more than curious as I carefully sliced through the tough tape to see what was inside. The contents were more than a little disappointing. The durable tube only yielded sheets of blank notepaper that Uncle Butch had secured for future use. I guess I’m not as frugal, so I decided to toss those. (I prefer my paper flat with minimal dogeared edges.)

There was also a neatly wound roll of copper wire that I’m positive was left over from the time he helped my brother, Joe, build an electric motor for his 4-H electricity project. I remember them tracking down the wire that had to be either coated or uncoated — I don’t remember which — for the project to work properly. Though I’ll never be building an electric motor of my own, the tangled wire went into the pile of items I chose to keep. 

And so, it went — keep this and toss that — until near the bottom of the eclectic heap, I found something that stumped me. Neatly wrapped in tissue and tucked inside a clear baggy were 16 colorful tin pins emblazoned with the names of various tobacco products. A bit of research on the Internet revealed them to be chewing tobacco tin tags that were attached to tobacco plugs from around 1870 to the 1930s. Their original purpose was to ensure purchasers of the purity and quality of the tobacco they had purchased. The pins have neat graphics and are popular with collectors of vintage advertising. They aren’t particularly valuable, but Uncle Butch and I shared a fondness for vintage items, and I think they will make a nice display for my home office. They’re a reminder of a very special person, and they deserve more than just being tossed in a box.  

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