I admit to being a perpetual student. Which makes the antique trade a rich and varied classroom for anything and everything. I may have creaks in my joints from moving all the furniture, making me feel as though 100 came and went, but I feel young again every time I find out I am holding something that is older than my parents. Older than my great grandparents. Older than anyone I know alive. It is invigorating. Except when I realize some of these items are holding up better than I am.
Like this tin with a heavy red truck on it from the 1950's. I bought it because it looked cool. You will find that this is a common sentiment when I choose to purchase an item for the shop. For the most part I have excellent taste. Mostly. And a red truck on a food tin is definitely cool.
To explore the history of this tin, I first had to explore the history of potato chips. There are a hundred different flavors and types of chip in the market today. It is the most popular snack food and commands an aisle all its own in the market today. But it took a long time for the crispy and savory product to make it to shelves, much less to favorite status.
Invention of the potato chip is not attributed to any one person, though myths do abound. When you Google the history of potato chips, there is one myth that almost completely obliterates the previous 30 or so years. It is said in 1853 that the chip was invented via fit of pique by George Crum in Saratoga Springs. There is no evidence of this either in Crum's biography, restaurant menus, news of the times, etc. However, a recipe in an early 1800's cookbook by William Kitchiner sound very much like the chip with thinly sliced or shaved potatoes cooked in lard and sprinkled with salt.
Regardless of the actual history of this food product, the industry did not exist until the 1800s became the 1900s and technology became a staple. Although potato chips were first sold in grocery stores in 1895, they were scooped out of barrels into paper bags. It wasn't until 1926 that Laura Scudder created the first pre-bagged chips in waxed paper bags. And until the industrial peeler was invented in the 1920s, potatoes were peeled by hand.
Potato chips weren't even salted. Frank Smith provided his customers with a twist of salt. The process of adding salt and flavor in the manufacturing did not occur until Joe "Spud" Murphy figured out the process. He created his company, Tayto, in 1954 in Ireland and created Cheese & Onion flavored chips followed shortly by Salt & Vinegar. They were only known through Europe. America didn't get its first flavored potato chip until 1958, when Herr's introduced BBQ. It wasn't until the 1970s that America was introduced to more flavors. It took a surprisingly long time to get to the Dorito.
This is the history of just the chip. But what about the bag? As mentioned, bagged chips came around in 1926. They were put in waxed paper to not only keep the grease contained, but to also keep out as much moisture as possible. Modern bags are plastic with aluminum and nitrogen to keep the chips as fresh as possible for as long as possible. Barrel scooped chips inevitably ended with a pile of crunched up stale chips in the bottom.
And here we come back to our tin! You could buy those lovely potato chips at the store, put them in your Gordon's Everfresh Can, and eat them whenever you want because they would remain fresh! You could even salt them as you put them in the tin so they were already flavored. We would have to have 10 or so with all the flavors we would want in our cupboards. Mine would be perpetually filled with Salt & Vinegar. Or Pepperocini.
I am going to go get a bag of chips now.