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IN A WORLD WHERE COLLECTIBLE ARMS CAN REACH SIX FIGURES IN VALUE THERE ARE, BELIEVE IT OR NOT, AREAS OF COLLECTING THAT ARE STILL AFFORDABLE. THIS COLUMN WILL REGULARLY FEATURE AREAS OF SPECIALIZATION THAT ARE INEXPENSIVE, FUN, CHALLENGING AND HIGHLY REWARDING IN COLLECTOR SATISFACTION.
COLLECTING GUNPOWDER CANS
Most gun and cartridge collectors have acquired a few gunpowder cans along the way. They make colorful go-withs for more comprehensive collections. A few collectors have concentrated on collecting these historic artifacts as a primary focus of their collections. Common cans are easy to find on sites such as eBay and at gun shows. Many can be bought very reasonably but when a rarity does occasionally turn up, be prepared to part with some serious money.
Cans can be divided into several basic categories—
- Japanned (lacquered tin) with crude paper labels
- Painted cans with stenciled designs
- Painted canes with affixed paper labels
- Early lithographed cans like Figure -
- Lithographed tin cans – mostly for smokeless powder
- Keg style cans with either litho or paper labels
Generally, black powder cans are more desirable than smokeless powder cans but, as you can see, there are exceptions
Figure 1 – An early Japanese Dupont can with paper labels. These are usually found in about the condition shown. They are fairly rare and date to around 1850.
Figure 2 – A nice, stenciled tin. Often they have the name of the merchandiser. The gold paint wears off easily and really clear images are hard to find.
Size matters – cans can be found from tiny sample tins to 25 pound or larger tin kegs. The most desirable are in the one-pound or smaller size, however labeled wooden kegs in any size are highly sought after, especially if they bear original labels or stencils.
Figure 3 – Stenciled images like this duck are especially desirable.
A word of warning- DuPont’s gift shop sometimes sells souvenir packets of original labels. These labels sometimes find their way on to old cans. Be sure to judge whether the condition of the tin and label are consistent before you buy.
Several years ago Tom Rowe published two books written by Ted and David Bacyk and himself. The Bacyk Brothers amassed an incredible collection of powder cans and many of the rarest are illustrated in those books (see further reading). Both books are beautifully illustrated and well organized by the manufacturer.
In order to pique your interest, we’ve illustrated several very rare and desirable tins below, showing the basic types.
Figure 4 – The large can is fairly common though still quite desirable in this condition. The miniature sample version is very rare.
Bacyk, Ted and David, Tom Rowe – GUNPOWDER CANS AND KEGS,
Rowe Publications 1998
Bacyk Ted and David, Tom Rowe – GUNPOWDER CANS AND KEGS VOLUME 2, Rowe Publications 2005
Figure 5 – A very rare painted can with a paper label.
Figure 6 – A nice Canadian can with excellent graphics.
Figure 7 – About as good as a can can get – this California would rate as a “10”.
Figure 8 – The exception to the rule. Any collector would be delighted to own this lithographed Robin Hood smokeless can.
Figure 9 – English cans are abundant. This is a particularly rare one.
Figure 10- Graphics are important. This Laflin & Rand can is especially attractive.
Figure 11 – Sample cans like these are hard to find. The Mining Powder can is especially rare.
Figure 12 – The unusual printing process on this fairly common can is very vivid and quite unlike other lithographed cans.
Figure 13 – Wooden kegs with labels are also very desirable. They were usually bound with willow twigs.
Figure 14 – Occasionally, brass-bound oak kegs like these will show up.