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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Book about Tin Cans

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 27, 2013

Librarians deal with authors who are promoting their book(s) hoping to get them into libraries by either donation or purchase.


Some book sales are driven by public demand, but the larger numbers of books in libraries are selected by librarians from reviews, promotions, and mailings.


In past years, authors and publishers promoted their books with mailings and information in trade publications, but that has now been supplemented with e-mails and Facebook, and even Twitters.


Each morning, my library e-mail is filled with authors thinking they are the only writer to e-mail a Library Director in Ohio regarding their can’t-do-without new book.


Some attempt to disguise their connection to the book by saying that they are a local resident shocked that our online catalog doesn’t contain a particular title.


I ask for their library card number so I can inform them when the book in question is in-the-system; but I have never had a response to my inquiry because that would reveal the true requestor.


In December, I had a phone call from an author living in the state of Washington, who wished to discuss his book about the history of tin cans.


Librarians are generally polite, so I listened to the passionate conversation of Douglas Rhodes as he described his book, but frankly I thought, “The history of tin cans?”


He continued to describe these 19th century tin cans that he found under a house in Leadville, Colorado, and how he appeared on “Antiques Roadshow” with his find.


I remembered one of the Roadshow episodes with such a display, and the fact that the paper labels were still intact due to the elevation of Leadville and their protection from soil.


Mr. Rhodes continued his description of the book titled, “Labels, Leadville, and Lore” and the people that helped with research for the book, and the digital reproductions of some of the cans, and color photos of the restored cans.


He offered to send the book for my personal review, and offered that if we wanted to buy it, great, and if not we could return it.


I agreed to the offer, and in the mail came a beautiful book that would likely interest antique collectors, home restoration folks, and people interested in the history of The West.


Tin cans were a revolution to our society, as they permitted people to travel with food that remained edible.  The can made its appearance in the early part of the century, and by the 1850s was a common feature as settlers headed to the American West.


The art work on the cans of the 19th century is spectacular, and the early cans contained everything from beans to fruit, seafood to chicken.


He provides a history of the companies producing early canned products, as well as cooking instructions for preparing the product.


In addition, the author gives stories of how the cans were found in Leadville and photos of other household products located under the floor of the homes.


Buttons, marbles, and pottery as well as newsprint, money, and bottles were all part of the antiquarian items that survived for the years to be found and cherished again.


Mr. Rhodes’ find is indeed unique, as typically only one tin can is found usually tucked in an attic or crawl space.  Most cans were discarded as trash and rotted back into the soil.


“Antiques Roadshow” feels that his treasure may be the largest collection of 19th century tin cans that exists in America today.


I retract my first thoughts that this book may be the equivalent of watching paint dry, and offer it to others who might enjoy it.


I purchased only one copy of the book, but notice that several other libraries in our online system have also acquired it, so as long as their Directors haven’t written an article about the book, everyone should have their request filled.