Q: I've done Internet searches but cannot find any info on my two unopened cans of Chesterfield cigarettes from the 1950s.
A: Images sent show that our reader indeed has two unopened round tins, each holding 50 unfiltered Chesterfield cigarettes. Imagine small soup-sized cans, each with a metal key attached on the top to open. The turnkey is the type that used to be attached to sardine tins.
Tobacco tins or containers have been around since about 1860, when Lorillard is credited with having made the first U.S. tin. Celebrated for their artful color lithography, tobacco tins became the stuff of marketing contests between companies. By the first quarter of the 20th century, consumers bought as much for the attractive tins as for the tobacco.
Most tins were flat or upright with hinged lids, and they were produced in astounding variety. The earliest had squared corners; boxes with round corners came later.
Prized today by advertising, lithography and tobacciana collectors, desirable early tins from the 1890-1910 eras are pricy and rare.
Our reader's tins date from the 1940s, when their can packaging was especially suited to smokers in WW II military units. Moving into the 1950s, Chesterfield launched advertising that promoted smoking as a sophisticated thing to do. A new flat, square metal box with a hinged lid -- a sleek and very Don Draperish design -- was part of the campaign. Many of those boxes survive at flea markets and in online auctions.
A smart collector, the reader notes a DeWitt Clinton tax revenue stamp on his tins. Having done some homework, he's learned that the stamp is a Series 110. The series signifies 1940. When that stamp is unbroken, unstained and still bright, it's like gold. Value for collectibles is always about like-new condition.
Viewing stamps in the images, we see that one has a smudge on Clinton's face. But the stamp is intact. Considering every other plus, a buyer may overlook the blemish.
We found a similar single near-mint condition Chesterfield can with minor stamp blemishes that sold on eBay recently for $250. And this reader has two!
The tins are a collectors dream: Outstanding condition, unopened, with intact keys, no rust -- perfection!
AUCTION ACTION: If the photo with this column looks familiar, it's because we ran it late last summer when the gold and gem set ring belonging to English author Jane Austen sold for $236,617 at Sotheby's London. The Austen museum wanted the ring but could not bid high enough to capture the prize, and the ring sold over the phone to a private collector for more than five times the high estimate.
After England's cultural minister declared the ring a national treasure that should not leave the country, the private collector -- who turned out to be pop singer Kelly Clarkson -- agreed to sell the ring to a British museum if a buyer is able to match the price she paid. It turns out that Clarkson is a huge fan of the "Pride and Prejudice" and "Emma" author.
After an anonymous benefactor anted up $150,000 U.S., Jane Austen's Home Museum came closer to meeting the auction price. The museum has until December to raise the remaining amount.
In more celebrity collector news, property from the estates of Bob and Delores Hope and Phyllis Diller will sell next month at http://www.juliensauctions.com.
Q: From the very beginning, the tobacco business has been all about merchandising. Can you name five ways tobacco was advertised in the early days?
A: Pick any five: Brochures, pamphlets, signs painted on buildings, wrappers, banners, catalogs, trade cards and newspaper ads, among others. Source: "Tobacco Advertising: The Great Seduction" by Gerard S. Petrone (Schiffer, $49.95). Simply the best reference to how the industry developed and grew. Fully illustrated.
(Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.)