Shopping With the Tinsmith


Kate Bridges-signature line

Let’s go shopping, 1860s style.

If you lived back in the Old West, chances are the tinsmith ran one of your favorite shops. To an untrained eye, entering his store might look as though you’re entering a cluttered space. But if you look closer, you’ll note the fine tools, the specialty patterns and the intricate designs. What you’ll love most of all is the usefulness of every product.




There was an art to handling tin. The fine detailed work often lent itself to women’s hands, and I can well imagine the tinsmith’s wife or daughter working just as hard as the man himself in designing the tools, the well-crafted shapes, and coming up with ideas for new products.








Here are a sampling of things available to a person in the 1860s. 

 ts2  Hip tubs.


Lanterns of all sorts.


Cookie cutters. How would you like to have a cookie in the shape of a horse’s head?


Tin ceiling tiles, designed to your liking.


And best of all, if you lived in a cold climate, how about some duct work going from the stove to the ceiling, thereby warming the floor of the upper story above you?


You’ve probably spotted other kitchen pots and utensils for sale on the back walls. Do you have your credit card ready? What’s the first thing you’d buy?


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26 thoughts on “Shopping With the Tinsmith”

  1. Good morning, Kate!

    I loved looking at these pictures. I remember seeing tin ceiling tiles when I was a little girl. I can’t imagine what they’d be like to clean. Don’t you think they’d collect soot from lanterns, candles and fireplaces? But they were sure pretty when they were new – shiny and bright. 🙂

    I’d love to know what a hip tub is. I’ve never heard of that.

    And those cookie cutters – is that a mouse below the horse’s head? Eek! That one definitely wouldn’t go on my credit card. LOL.

  2. Hi Pam! You’re right about those ceiling tiles. I bet they would collect a lot of soot. Maybe they wiped off easily — LOL we can only hope.

    Hip tubs were half the size of normal tubs, where they would just fit the lower half of the body, basically. They didn’t need as much warm water and were faster to fill. Even the hip tubs came in different sizes and shapes–some had sloped backs for lounging, etc. And they were lightweight, so easily stored, unlike heavy porcelain tubs that had to remain fixed. But hip tubs were sort of ugly. The one in the window here is much larger than it appears–the size of a large barrel, except made of thick tin.

    LOL on the cookie cutters! Thanks for dropping by.

  3. Hello Kate,

    Love the pictures. The tin ceiling tiles would make a wonderful back splash behind my stove. The lanterns were beautiful with the details. I’d also like to know what a hip tub is.

    Have a great day.

  4. Hi Roberta! I agree how pretty the ceiling tiles are. I think they’re making a come-back in interior design right now. That’s an excellent suggestion on how to use them–a backsplash. 🙂

    I mentioned hip tubs in the comment above you but we must’ve both been typing at the same time, so you couldn’t have seen it.

    I forgot to mention that hip tubs were convenient for bathing children.

  5. Beautiful pictures, Kate. Like Roberta I love the ceiling tiles. I drool over the antique ones for sale. Alas they’re expensive. Could think of all sorts of things to do with them–the backsplash is a great idea.

  6. Hi Kate,
    I’m a fan of the ceiling tiles as well. They are so pretty and look like works of art. I’d definitely buy those along with some warming duct work …I hate being cold! I’d have fun window shopping at a tinsmith’s but I bet half the things for sale would have to be explained to me.
    Great blog!!

  7. Elizabeth–I wasn’t sure if the antique tiles were expensive or not, but I should have guessed! Sometimes I see antique things on “The Antique Roadshow” and they all look so intriguing to me.

    Charlene–I’m with you on the ductwork! I like a nice cozy place, too. Especially kitchens.

  8. Interesting pictures. I would have to buy lanterns. I love light and like the flickering light of candles or lanterns the most. There is a tavern here in town that still has the old tin ceiling tiles. I am sure that they have dozens of coats of paint on them after years in a smoky old bar.

    I lived in a house where the ductwork from a wood burning stove heated the bedroom upstairs. Dangerous practice as it became quite warm when the stove was stoked. Burned myself on it when I stood to close to warm my backside!

  9. I was at a Living History museum last September and they had a Tinsmith…but he was off the day I was there…those slacker tin smiths..!!!!!

    But his was about the most interesting place. All the bits of bright tin and strange tools. We’re so used to manufacturing and big machines that just stamp out whatever we need but a tin cup back then, well, didn’t it have to be made by hand? Right? Lots of skill and artistry could be used.
    And I have one ‘antique-ish’ lamp with a tin lampshade. It’s got a candle in it. I love tin punched work like that, beautiful.


  10. Hi Kate, loved this blog. We visited a tin shop in Old Town San Diego and the work was gorgeous. And yes, expensive. The lanterns were indeed gorgeous as are your photos. Somewhere in my gramma’s stuff there were antique cookie cutters, but my brother made off with them, fine with me as he bakes and I do not.

    Thanks for the info, and have a great day.


  11. Connie-I love lanterns, too, with the flickering lights. I collect a lot of candle holders–not antiques, just pretty ones. I was thinking about the danger involved in those stove pipes–you’ve confirmed it!

  12. Mary, LOL on those lazy tinsmiths! We are used to factory-made, aren’t we? I imagine the tinsmiths could craft their items totally by hand, or use small presses for larger pieces or to work faster. Your lamp sounds pretty. 🙂

  13. Hi Tanya! It would be interesting to see the difference between the tin shop in San Diego versus the one I visited here in Toronto. Probably a Spanish influence in design down there. How appropriate that your brother made off with those cookie cutters, LOL, since he’s the baker! I’m not a baker, either, so I know how you feel.

  14. Kate. . .Loved the blog. Fascinating about the warming duct work, and now I want some ceiling tiles, too.

  15. My grandfather, his father and grandfather, and his brothers were all tin smiths in Essen, Germany. They did beautiful tin scroll work, and eagles in a gothic style for the interior of prominent public buildings in the city in the 1800’s, that are still there today. My grandfather’s brothers were killed in World War I and my grandfather brought his family to this country in the ’30’s. The family craft of tinsmithing died out, but the artistic abilities of my father, his brothers, my cousins and my brother’s are strong. It leads me to believe you had to have the eye of an artist and a meticulous attention for detail to produce quality tin products. It’s sad how our society as lost almost all the fine craftsmen skills in lieu of mass produced everything from nail to fake tin ceiling tiles.

  16. Abi–hi. The lanterns are yours! 🙂 Thanks for dropping by.

    Pat–I found the duct work fascinating, too. It was interesting to see the rudimentary making of our modern day furnaces. And also opened my eyes to how many diverse skills the tinsmith had.

    Kathy–your post is incredible. What a rich history you have and what artists in the family. I would love to see some of their handiwork in those prominent public buildings. I bet the work is beautiful. And I totally agree that many of these craftsmen were gifted artists. Thanks for sharing your remarkable family history.

  17. Hey Kate – great post! I love the thought of working with metal. I think that’s why I collect coins – all that artistry. Some of my coins are from ancient rome 2000 yrs ago and still they survived. As well as being a coin collector, I collect cookie cutters and all those tin molds they used to use.

    I’d love a pressed tin ceiling.

    I even have a sheet of copper in our shop waiting for action although it’s a bit too thick for most ‘tin’ work. I bought it cheap at an auction and started making Christmas ornaments from it but it wore through so many of my scroll saw blades, I decided to set it aside.

    I have a craft book showing how to make ‘tin crafts’, too. But if I actually made the stuff, I wouldn’t get as much writing done. 🙂

  18. Thanks Colleen! I think the ceiling tiles are the most popular pick today.

    Anita Mae–I didn’t realize you were so talented. That’s wonderful. Wow, you press copper, too? Copper wiring at the hardware store is expensive, so I can imagine your excitement at getting a good deal at auction. Your collections sound like fun–the ancient Roman coin and the cookie cutters!

  19. I agree that the tin tiles would make a great
    back splash for the kitchen, also like the lanterns.

    Pat Cochran

  20. Hey Kate – We buy the ancient coins from a man who has relatives in Britain. Over there, they keep finding clay jars and bundles of coins when they are digging because the Romans used to bury them and hide them in walls, etc.

    We cover them with oil – I use a canola/olive oil mixture because olive oil alone is too expensive – and we put them in plastic containers on a rack above the furnace vent in the dining room. The top of the fridge would work, too. You want the oil to heat so it loosens the dirt off the encrusted coins. We started them in Nov and every few weeks we use a Qtip to clean them off and change the oil. We’re about half way through but we’re starting to get excited about them because we can see the designs. I’m photographing every time I clean them and will post before and after shots when we’re done. 🙂

    And I’m not that talented – I just like trying new things.

  21. Hi Pat–I like your taste!

    Anita Mae–that’s cool how you clean the coins. Also a great idea to take pictures each time. Let us know when you’re going to post them!

  22. Think I’d like a tin tiles. I’ve seen some lovely ceilings. In those the tin had designs pressed not pierced. My son and husband are blacksmiths. My son does the most and comes up with some interesting ideas. His items shaped like vines and branches are nice. We have lost a lot of the craft tradition in this country and it is a shame. Unfortunately this economic downturn is going to hurt them badly. A smith friend who has had a business for over 10 years, has no orders for about 3 months worth of business only. This is the first time that has happened. He employs 5 other smiths.

  23. What a wonderful post and really great store! I love the tin tiles and lanterns. But I think I saw a neat watering can on a back shelve and I would like that! And a hip tub might make a Great holder for flowering pots! What a shame to lose these great crafts!

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