The hidden value of tins…

I have been aware of the popularity of tins ever since an incident back in the early 1970s.

It was July 1974. I was 17 years old and looking forward to the long summer holidays, which were imminent.

A few years earlier, my parents had purchased a rundown old barn in the south of France for what seemed like very little money at the time. The idea was to renovate it to become habitable and use it as a base for our holidays for the next few years.

It was an adventure: we felt we were stepping into the unknown. This was a time long before holiday gites were being snapped up in France by the British, to be used as second residences.

We knew we were breaking new ground and the whole family felt a little nervous as we crossed the Channel before embarking on the long drive south through France.

On arrival, we found to our horror that the barn was far from habitable. Part of the roof was missing, as were most of the walls… and it was full of rats!

Well, the story of how we turned our rat-ridden barn into a clean but rustic abode I shall leave for another time. But for the purposes of this article, one small episode still remains very clear in my mind.

One of our biggest hurdles was that of mastering the French language… Frankly I’m not sure we ever fully achieved this task, as the locals spoke a very strange patois – nothing like the French which I had been learning in school.

What is more, we were far from the popular coastal resorts where English was commonly used. We were in the central farming region of the Tarn et Garonne, which was predominantly a simple farming community. The local farmers were cautiously welcoming, but spoke no English at all.

I was one year away from taking my A Level in Geography and had decided that my compulsory field project, which counted towards my overall mark, would be to undertake an agricultural survey of the crops produced in that part of France.

A strange and eerie silence seemed to greet me however, as I marched up each and every farm track, intent on interviewing the farmers regarding their agricultural methods. There was never anyone in sight.

The reason why all the farms resembled the Marie Celeste later became apparent. It was the clipboard which I had tucked under my arm in order to take notes – they all had seen me coming and thought I was the tax man!

Not to be beaten, we tried another tack. I later returned, along with my parents, to our neighbouring farm, but this time clutching a large tin of Fortnum & Mason biscuits. The local land agent had given us this tip before we left England: “Come bearing gifts.”

This time our welcome was very different. We were greeted with open arms and, along with the farmer’s entire family, we were ushered into their large kitchen, in the centre of which stood a thick, pine farmhouse table, covered in pink stains from where they mixed up their own rat poison.

To our complete surprise and horror, the farmer’s wife proceeded to open the new biscuit tin and empty the contents all over the poison-stained table top. Then, with a smile and a bow, she handed the tin back to us!

Well, the lesson of this rather rambling Ronnie Corbett-style story is that even back then, a tin was perceived to be more valuable than its contents.

When we insisted that they keep the tin, well, their day was made and our whole family were all immediately invited to share Sunday lunch the following day.

Old tins are, if anything, even more popular today and regularly sell in huge numbers on eBay.

I bought the tin pictured above from a car boot fair for £1 and it sold last week on eBay for £10.

Similar to the mug niche discussed last week, you will never be able to retire by buying and selling old tins.

But the point of these snippets from the marketplace is to make you more aware of the value of (what some would call) mundane objects, which can be found all around you when you are out and about.

Again, as with the mugs, some tins are worth more than others. If you find old tins sporting advertising slogans – the tin above is a Cadbury’s tin – then it will be worth more.

Watch out when you are clearing out junk from garages and sheds of family and friends. Some of those old, rather battered petrol and oil cans, with logos and insignia, can be worth a small fortune…

For instance, a green Wakefield Castrol XL quart caddy oil tin can sold last month for £112. I suspect that many would have simply thrown it straight on the tip!

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