John Schmoll was a  tin-smith in Neillsville, WI

A Practical Talk That Should Interest Thoughtful Parents—What a Boy May Expect In Work and Wages—Details of the Apprenticeship.

Matthew Barr is the walking delegate of the Tin and Sheet Iron Workers' union, and worked for many years as a tinsmith in a shop and in business for himself. "The tinsmith trade," said Mr. Barr to a reporter, "is split into several branches, and to be able to do all kinds of work in tin and sheet iron requires considerable time spent in each department. Sheet iron work, as it is understood in this city, is carried on in what are known as 'furnace shops,' while the manufacture of tin goods is restricted to what are called 'assortment shops.' Apart from these there are the cornice makers and slate and metal roofers, which are included among the branches that tinsmiths must know to round out their knowledge.

"The best age for a boy to begin the tinsmith trade is about sixteen. He ought to have picked up sufficient education from the common schools at this age to give him a fair start in life. No boy is bound out as an apprentice to a tinsmith in this country, but beginners are not looked upon as full fledged journeymen until they reach the age of manhood, no matter how proficient they may be. In some shops a boy has very little show, because there is a system of employment which practically excludes him.

"This is the rebuilt of a surplus of labor in other countries. Tinsmiths land here from other lands with but little knowledge of what the trade requires here, but with a general knowledge of the business and the use of tools. They apply for work in shops and they are taken on in preference to the native born boys who desire to learn the trade. These foreign mechanics can learn quicker than a boy generally, and while they are hired for low wages, they in a short time are able to do almost as much work as an expert tinsmith. This system is against the American boy, but so long as there is money in it for the bosses it will be kept up.

"This trade is not such a laborious one that it requires an unusual amount of strength. A, tinsmith need not be as strong as a carpenter, blacksmith or bricklayer, but he must have plenty of endurance. He ought to be versatile intellectually, because he is not a mere machine, but is often required to make entirely new things, which can only be done with a fair degree of inventive skill, besides an expert knowledge of the use of tools.

"A boy will never become a good tinsmith if he is not obedient and patient. He will have to do some simple thing over so many times that life will be­ come very weary in the shop before he is set to work upon something that appears to be important to him. In the assortment shops a boy will first be taught how to use the shears. He will be given a lot of old scraps to cut up, and before his muscles get used to the movement he will think that his arm will drop off. He will receive about three dollars a week on the start. "The foreman watches the boy carefully, and if he does not take hold of the shears and other tools handily in a few days, he will probably remind him that he has made a mistake in his calling. Some boys are put at this and other trades by their parents who would make good clerks and salesmen, but never will be good mechanics. To ac­ custom the boy to the use of the mallet and hammer, he is kept straightening old pipe. When he knows a little about tools and shows the proper spirit in doing his work, he is sent to the journeyman's bench to hold things for him, and in this way gets an idea of the practical use of tools. He May be kept at this for a long time, and this is the period that will test his patience.

"It is always a red letter day for the beginner when the foreman gives him a piece of metal and tells him to make a drinking cup. He has seen it done many times, but when he comes to cutting out the tin and getting it into shape his fingers seem to be all thumbs. He wants to make a good cup, but his anxiety will knock it out of shape. When it is all brightly polished it is taken to the fore­ man for inspection. Nine times out of ten the beginner is told to take it home as a memento. He feels very happy, but he would not think so much of his work if he knew that the real reason that it was not taken by the foreman was that it could not be sold.

"The boy will soon find this out when the foreman keeps him making cups until he gets a perfect one. From a cup he goes to other things of minor importance, which he is kept at until he gradually acquires skill. It depends upon the boy himself how much time he will waste before he becomes an expert. If he is civil and obliging the journeymen will teach him pattern drawing, and in this way the boy will learn how to block out the models of every kind of work and cut out patterns for himself.

"During the last thirty years there have been many changes in the tin­ smith's trade. Machinery has taken the place of hand labor in the manufacture of nearly all utensils, but this has made no change in the tinsmith's condition.

Organized labor has protected the workman. The principal machines in the assortment shops are presses giving the general outlines of manufactured goods, and lathes, which are used to perfect the lines of spinning. An important fact in the trade is the wheeling machine, which gives the bright polish and puts on the finishing touches. The polishing used to be done by hammers on an anvil, but the wheeling machine can do better and more work. During the five years that a boy ought to spend in learning this trade he ought to become expert in the use of all the machinery, if ne has had the proper instruction. A boy will learn the trade better in a shop than in a trade school."—New York Recorder, June 24, 1892

Tin sources and trade in ancient times

Tin is an essential metal in the creation of tin bronzes, and its acquisition was an important part of ancient cultures from the Bronze Age onward. Its use began in the Middle East and the Balkans around 3000 BC. Tin is a relatively rare element in the Earth's crust, with about two parts per million (ppm), compared to iron with 50,000 ppm, copper with 70 ppm, lead with 16 ppm, arsenic with 5 ppm, silver with 0.1 ppm, and gold with 0.005 ppm (Valera & Valera 2003, p. 10). Ancient sources of tin were therefore rare, and the metal usually had to be traded over very long distances to meet demand in areas which lacked tin deposits.

Known sources of tin in ancient times include the southeastern tin belt that runs from Yunnan in China to the Malay Peninsula; Devon and Cornwall in England; Brittany in France; the border between Germany and the Czech Republic; Spain; Portugal; Italy; and central and South Africa (Wertime 1979, p. 1; Muhly 1979). Syria and Egypt have been suggested as minor sources of tin, but the archaeological evidence is inconclusive.


Tin extraction and use can be dated to the beginning of the Bronze Age around 3000 BC, during which copper objects formed from polymetallic ores had different physical properties (Cierny & Weisgerber 2003, p. 23). The earliest bronze objects had tin or arsenic content of less than 2% and are therefore believed to be the result of unintentional alloying due to trace metal content in copper ores such as tennantite, which contains arsenic (Penhallurick 1986, p. 4). The addition of a second metal to copper increases its hardness, lowers the melting temperature, and improves the casting process by producing a more fluid melt that cools to a denser, less spongy metal (Penhallurick 1986, pp. 4–5). This was an important innovation that allowed for the much more complex shapes cast in closed molds of the Bronze Age. Arsenical bronze objects appear first in the Middle East where arsenic is commonly found in association with copper ore, but the health risks were quickly realized and the quest for sources of the much less hazardous tin ores began early in the Bronze Age (Charles 1979, p. 30). This created the demand for rare tin metal and formed a trade network that linked the distant sources of tin to the markets of Bronze Age cultures.

Cassiterite (SnO2), oxidized tin, most likely was the original source of tin in ancient times. Other forms of tin ores are less abundant sulfides such as stannite that require a more involved smelting process. Cassiterite often accumulates in alluvial channels as placer deposits due to the fact that it is harder, heavier, and more chemically resistant than the granite in which it typically forms (Penhallurick 1986). These deposits can be easily seen in river banks, because cassiterite is usually black or purple or otherwise dark, a feature exploited by early Bronze Age prospectors. It is likely that the earliest deposits were alluvial and perhaps exploited by the same methods used for panning gold in placer deposits.  Wikipedia




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