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Consuming Passions: Needle Tins - Tiny Treasures

A needle tin is a well designed, informative little metal box that is often attractive, functional and, of course, fun to collect.

Some years ago, while bemoaning the fact that I couldn't afford to collect all the machines I wanted, I decided that to satisfy my collecting urge, I would have to find some cheaper phono-related item to collect.

I decided on needle boxes, and even today boxes can be found priced anywhere from a dollar or two to twenty or thirty for rarer examples. But what a bargain! And what a wonderful slice of history and geography. Every country in the world that manufactured machines also made needle tins.

Interest became so keen that companies competed to produce the most eye catching tins. Many colorful and beautiful boxes emerged, as well as some unusual shapes and sizes, all displaying the manufacturer's logo and place of origin.

Quite often the graphics depicted odd shaped needles made of such diverse materials as steel, copper, brass, wood, silver and thorns; all claiming to be better, louder, longer lasting or easier on your records. Major companies like Berliner, Victor & Columbia used as many as 30 or 40 different packing techniques. All touted as being soft, medium, half tone, loud, extra loud, long playing, permanent, record saving and more!

My own collection now numbers 462 tins and 58 paper & other packets. The earliest tin dates from the late 1890's and was sold by The American Phonograph Co. and the latest an RCA Victor is from the mid 1930's when production essentially ceased. Styles include ones shaped like a pyramid that dispense one needle at a time when up-ended. They also come round, square, oblong, triangular and multi-compartmented. Some were made of aluminium and heavily embossed, others are painted and lettered; while still others are beautifully enameled. The graphics on these boxes depict all shapes and sizes of phonographs & gramophones, with dogs, cats, babies, angels, bells, records, famous personalities and combinations of them all.

Individual companies in Canada such as Sonora, Apex, Phonola, Heintzman, Brantola, Eaton's and Simpson's all produced attractive needle boxes bearing their trade- mark. Individual phonograph dealers had tins made up with their shop names and logos. These were produced in metal tins, cardboard boxes, paper packets and plastic holders, all highly collectable. They were made in quantities of 5, 10, 50, 100, 200 and 1000 and in all tonal qualities.

I am convinced that there are still hundreds of different boxes waiting for the collector to find and I intend to continue to haunt flea markets, old country stores, antique shops, nostalgia shows, garage sales and phonograph clubs 'till I have ferreted them all out.

But quite frankly the bottom line on needle boxes is that they are fun to collect and search for. The thrill of finding one that you don't have increases as your collection grows and each one you manage to find only heightens your enthusiasm for - the next one!