Tobacco collectibles comprise a large portion of the market in Americana, ranging from the plebian (advertising ashtrays, Zippo lighters) to the specialized and rarified (Tiffany bronze smoking stands, rare baseball cards first package with cigarettes). Tobacciana remains popular no matter the stigma nowadays associated with the consumption of tobacco.
The history of tobacco is inextricably linked with American history, and this gives tobacciana the lions share of its attraction. From our inception as a nation, tobacco farming formed the backbone of the colonial economy. Tobacco cultivation by most Native American tribes (and accompanying sacrificial and shamanic consumption) is reflected in the mass consciousness by the cigar store figure, something that could be seen as diminishing people that Anglo-Americans considered threatening until the early nineteenth century. Even Civil War-era anxieties about slavery are bound tightly with the visual lexicon of the tobacco industrys advertising as late as 1950. These politically charged collectibles have signals and flashes of historical memory layered on seemingly innocent, cutesy imageryand this is precisely what makes them so evocative and so collectible.
Roly Poly tobacco tins were made from about 1914 to 1918 by a company based in Baltimore, Maryland called Tindeco (short for Tin Decoration). The Tindeco factory was one of the most prolific manufacturers of lithographed tin items in the United States after the Second World War. The company made items for the candy and medical sectors (aspirin and talcum powder containers), in addition to the tobacco industry, and these items are prized by collectors today due to their high level of artistic merit (the artists Harrison Fisher and Harrison Cady produced artwork for series of tins) and for the crispness of the lithography.
The waterfront Tindeco factory was completely self-contained and only needed raw material to sustain production, and the machine shop made its own press tools. Included on site was a makeshift surgical room for injuries, and a nurse was kept on staff to attend to overheated workers (windows had to remain shut during the lithographic process on tin or the details would blur), which attests to the dangers of this industrymost lithographers lost at least one finger in the presses during their careers.
The Roly Poly tobacco tins are considered one of the most desirable items of tin tobacciana that exist. They were produced for four different tobacco companies, (Dixie Queen, Mayo, U.S. Marine and Red Indian) for a total of sixteen original packaging variations. Pacific Galleries consigned a Dutchman Roly Poly tobacco tin made for the Dixie Queen Company, and is expected to sell in the $300 to $600 range. [Editors Note: this item actually sold for $160 at auction.]
Crews, Barbara. Roly Poly Tobacco Tins, Part A: A History. http://collectibles.about.com/library/weekly/aa041802a.htm