From the charming aluminum and chrome models of the 1950s to the glass in-cabinet Hoosier canisters of the late 19th and early 20th century, vintage kitchen canisters appeal to home decorating enthusiasts and antiques collectors alike. These functional collectibles come in a wide array of affordable colors and styles, and they're just as useful in today's home as they were in the kitchens of decades past.
Where to Buy Vintage Kitchen Canisters
You can find vintage canisters in local shops, as well as online. Whether you're shopping from your home computer or browsing your area for the right design, you'll find it in one of the following places.
The king of online auction sites, eBay has a constantly changing selection of canisters. If you're looking for an authentic antique, rather than a vintage reproduction, be sure to read the fine print before you buy.
A great marketplace for antiques, RubyLane is also a wonderful place to find vintage canisters. You'll have lots of choices, and merchandise options change constantly as sellers list new items.
In addition to artist-made handicrafts, Etsy sells a large number of vintage items. Canisters are no exception, and you can expect to find some great examples from any era amid the rotating selection.
Another excellent resource for buying antiques online, Tias has lots of options for canister collectors and enthusiasts. You'll find everything from Bakelite-trimmed canisters of the 1920s to sleek mid-century examples.
Local Resources for Vintage Canisters
You can also find vintage canisters locally:
- Flea markets - While you'll have to browse through lots of junk to find your perfect set of canisters, you may find you love the thrill of the hunt.
- Antique stores - Your local antique shop may have a great selection of vintage kitchen items.
- Thrift stores - Although vintage canisters are very collectible, some people do not see their appeal. This can be an asset for collectors, who can score a great deal at thrift stores and consignment shops.
- Garage sales - You never know what you might find at that next neighborhood garage sale. If you don't need your canisters in a hurry, this can be an excellent place to look.
Kitchen Canister Styles Through the Years
Kitchen canisters have been part of the standard American kitchen since at least the middle of the 19th century. Their popularity has endured throughout the 20th century, and many of today's brides still register for a canister set among their other wedding and shower gifts. Most styles of vintage and antique canisters included lids to help keep pests out and keep the contents fresh.
Tin and Metal Canisters
The earliest canisters were made of tin and may have been sold by traveling peddlers or at country stores. Tin canisters for tea and coffee were even among the kitchen essentials listed in the popular 1849 book Mrs. Putnam's Receipt Book and Young Housekeeper's Assistant by Elizabeth Putnam. These tin canisters remained popular through much of the 19th and 20th centuries.
- Tin canisters sometimes featured painted or printed designs or decorations. Advertisers sometimes used these tin canisters to promote products, so it's not unusual to find them with company logos or names.
- Newer versions are readily available in antique stores and online, but you may have to do a bit of hunting to get a 19th century model.
- In the 20th century, aluminum replaced tin in many canisters.
- Prices vary significantly from about $30 for a vintage aluminum set to well over $250 for a single well-preserved early tin canister.
Glass and Ceramic Canisters
In the later 19th century and throughout the 20th century, glass and ceramic canisters were very popular. The endless variations provided by these materials allowed homemakers to find a canister set that would match just about any color scheme or decorating style.
- Colored depression glass, milk glass, and clear pressed glass canisters were popular in the early part of the 20th century.
- Hoosier cabinets and other baking cabinets often came with a set of glass canisters for the cabinet shelves. These canisters are still available in antique shops.
- Later in the 20th century, ceramic canisters became very popular. Manufacturers like Fiesta made ceramic and stoneware canisters in a huge array of colors.
- Prices vary depending on the material, scarcity, and age of the canister set. Hoosier glass canisters can range from $20 to $80 each, depending on the size, and a full set of Hoosier canisters can be worth hundreds. A nice set of vintage ceramic canisters can be had for about $50.
Especially popular during the middle of the 20th century, enamel canisters added a dash of color and style to many vintage kitchens. Today, they are very easy to find in secondhand stores and antique shops, as well as online.
- These canisters can be quite collectible, ranging in price from about $40 for a small set to over $400 for a complete group of vintage enamel canisters.
- Some enamel canisters featured pre-printed labels to help the cook stay organized.
- Mid-century models often exemplified space-age design. They gleamed with chrome accents and sleek finishes.
- The knobs for these canisters ranged from Bakelite and other early plastics to wood, metal, and glass.
As quality plastics became readily available in the 1950s, kitchenware companies began making canisters out of this material. At flea markets, thrift stores, and online, you'll find lots of examples of cute plastic canisters from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
- These plastic canisters usually represent the decorating style and colors of their decade. For instance, plastic canisters from the '50s often appear in soft pink, baby blue, and sea green. Canisters from the '70s were often avocado green, brown, or orange.
- Tupperware canister sets, popular in the 1970s and 1980s, are very collectible.
- Plastic canisters sometimes featured metal knobs as accents. It's also common to find plastic knobs, sometimes in a contrasting color.
- Many of these plastic canister sets come pre-labeled with the canister contents.
- It's easy to find vintage plastic canisters in the range of $15 to $50, but especially iconic plastic canister sets can sell for $200 or more.
Helpful Shopping Tips
Whether you're browsing at a garage sale or searching online, there are a few things you should keep in mind as you shop:
- Watch for reproductions. Many companies make vintage-style canisters that are not actually old. To ensure you purchase the real thing, look for signs of use and age, as well as any identifying marks. Check with the seller to make sure the canister is the age specified. They cannot knowingly misrepresent an item to a buyer.
- Shop around. If you aren't set on a particular style, material, or era, shop around a bit. You may find that a similar set is available online or across town for a lot less money.
- Check condition. Like all antiques, the value of kitchen canisters depends on their condition. Check for cracks, rust, scratches, stains, and other damage before you buy.
More Uses for Vintage Canister Sets
While a set of antique or vintage canisters will add instant historic charm to your kitchen, there are actually lots of ways to use these treasures. If you fall in love with a canister set in the store but aren't sure how you'll use it at home, think outside the kitchen. Canisters make great storage in the laundry room, bathroom, and craft area.
- Store cotton balls, swabs, and other necessities in vintage canisters in your powder room or bathroom.
- Use antique canisters to keep odds and ends tidy in your bedroom. They're great for storing spare change, keys, and other small items.
- Keep a vintage canister in your mudroom to store dog treats in a handy place. You can grab some on your way out the door for a walk with your furry friend.
- Canisters can make attractive storage for dishwasher tablets or laundry detergent pods, as long as you don't need a child-proof container.
Useful Kitchen Treasures
For around $50, you can easily find a set of canisters to add a dash of vintage style to your kitchen counters or anywhere else in your home. No matter where you use your canisters or what era they represent, you'll love collecting these useful kitchen treasures. And whether you use them to hold vintage kitchen tools or dry goods, they make a utilitarian collectible.