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Huntley & Palmers Tins

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Leaflet showing a display of Huntley & Palmers tins, 1900

Reading is the home of the biscuit tin, thanks to two great Reading companies: Huntley & Palmers and Huntley, Boorne & Stevens.

In 1822 Joseph Huntley started making biscuits in his small baker's shop on London Street in Reading. It stood on the busy London to Bath road, near the Crown coaching inn and each day biscuits were sold from a basket. The bakery quickly developed a good name with hungry coach travellers. The potential to sell biscuits further afield was soon realised and in 1832 Joseph Huntley’s younger son, also Joseph, began making tin boxes in his ironmonger's shop which stood opposite the London Street bakery. The bakery became the world famous biscuit and cake company Huntley & Palmers, and the tin shop developed into Britain's leading tin works Huntley, Boorne & Stevens.

The first tins were created for the airtight storage of biscuits so that they could be transported to distant customers and stay oven-fresh and unbroken. They were basic large, square, 10lb tins which Huntley & Palmers then labelled. These were made by hand and cut from standard-sized sheets of tinplate weighing 115lb. Smaller 7lb shop display tins with glass lids were supplied to grocers. Biscuits were sold directly from the tins and the required quantity was weighed out into a paper bag. When Huntley & Palmers began to transport their biscuits by rail, they found that the square tins did not fit efficiently into the goods carriages, so later versions were produced with one side slightly longer than the other.

During the 19th century technology and branding rapidly developed and the two companies created decorative tins in all shapes and sizes, printed with colourful designs. The earliest tins only had two colours, but in the 1860s transfer printing was introduced. With this technique, full-colour images were produced on paper, which was soaked and pressed onto the tin before the backing was wiped off. Then in 1877 the new 'offset lithography' process for printing on metal allowed the manufacture of more complex shapes. From miniature replicas of vehicles to tins that could be re-used as household objects, there were no limits to their ingenuity. However, when biscuit production ended at the Reading factory in 1976, the work for Huntley, Boorne & Stevens severely diminished. In 1985, Huntley, Boorne & Stevens was bought by The Linpac Group and the supply of tins for Huntley & Palmers finally came to an end.

Reading Museum's collection has over 7000 items relating to Huntley & Palmers, including almost 1500 biscuit tins. Many were donated by the company's then owners Nabisco when it finally left Reading, but others have come from local people.

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