Folk Art

Tin 10th Anniversary Gift of Wedding Cake Styled Candelabra
  • In the beginning of America’s history, people had no time for frivolities. Life in the Colonies and New Republic was hard and time-consuming. Everything had to be made by hand, grown locally, self-built—either alone or with help from a few good neighbors. With the Industrial Revolution of the 1830s, things got a bit easier, people had more free time and generally were financially better off than their ancestors. The Victorians in America were looking for ways to socialize and enjoy life. By the mid-19th century, celebrations with friends became very important to people and their social calendars.

    Big boisterous wedding anniversary celebrations became more important and quite popular. The tenth wedding anniversary was particularly important. Because life expectancy was shorter, most couples could not count on celebrating a 25th or 50th anniversary. A decade together was a cause for celebration. Tin was the traditional gift for 10 years. Tin bends instead of breaking, much like a married couple must learn to bend to make the marriage work instead of breaking. After ten years, the couple had obviously learned to bend and had a need for a great celebratory day. Etiquette books said that the original wedding guests were to be invited along with others. Surely there were practical gifts of tin given to replace the ones that had worn out after 10 years of daily use. However, the heart of the celebration for those who were a bit more well-to-do was humorous gifts made of tin. Tinsmiths offered fun items such as kitchen aprons, top hats, ladies bonnets and riding hats, slippers, shoes and even boots, fiddles, pipes, tin vases or nosegays filled with tin flowers, tin baskets of all shapes and sizes, giant tin hair combs and tiny tin cradles. Tinsmiths could keep patterns for these items and make them to order. Undoubtedly, some of these creative gifts were custom-made with the characteristics of the recipient in mind and some were made by guests themselves. Invitations were made of tin or tin foil wrapped card and sent in tin envelopes. One collection holds a framed tin wedding certificate to celebrate the anniversary.

    Without a doubt, most of these special pieces of folk art were later given to children for play or tossed out by a later generation. Few remain. However, the several museum collections of these desirable antiques have often been found as a complete collection that was kept together by the couple and then their family members. The Ontario County Historical Society of Canandaigua, New York, has (or had) a collection of more than 100 tin gifts presented to one couple in 1867. Suffield Historical Society of Connecticut was gifted another single owner collection of over 100 pieces that were kept together and passed through the family since 1869. The folk tradition of celebrating the 10th anniversary as the tin anniversary was uniquely American and started to fall out of favor around the turn of the 20th century. It seems like a tradition that would be fun to resurrect in the 21st century—don’t you think?

    Here we have a tin candelabra designed to invoke memories of the 10th anniversary couple’s wedding cake. What a great design! It provides the celebration needed with all the candles lit. I’m sure that upon receiving this gift, the couple lit the candles and, since etiquette required inviting original attendees of the wedding to the anniversary party, all celebrants stood around toasting the long union with memories of the date itself. The stepped wedding cake candelabra has 21 candleholders and measures 14" tall x diameter 13 1/2”. There are old solder repairs and one loose connection—shown in the last photo with arrows pointing to it. I can imagine it decorated with greenery or flowers around the candles for a great holiday celebration. Circa 1860.

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