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When is a Biscuit Tin Not a Biscuit Tin?
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  Themes Homepage > When is a Biscuit Tin Not a Biscuit Tin?
 
Global
When is a Biscuit Tin Not a Biscuit Tin?

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In the days when biscuit tins were well-made, sturdy objects, their re-use as practical items was common. In particular the square 5lb and 10lb tins could be used as storage for virtually any sort of cargo. In Uganda native bibles and prayer books had to measure three inches broad by three inches thick so as to fit into two-pound tins, which were about the only containers that would protect them against the ravages of white ants. And when the English Prince Henry died in Sierra Leone on 20 January 1896 he was brought home in a rum-filled tank made out of biscuit tins. African boys, about 1903
African boys, about 1903
 
Battle of Omdurman sword, 1898
Battle of Omdurman sword, 1898
The Battle of Omdurman 1898
By the late 1890s the importance of the Sudan had become clear to the British to ensure their continued control over Egypt. On 2 September 1898 the battle of Omdurman was a decisive defeat of the followers of Mohammed Ahmad (1843-1885), who believed that he was the ‘Mahdi’ (Messiah). After the battle, some captured Sudanese swords were found to have scabbards with metal bands cut from Huntley & Palmers biscuit tins, with the firms name (stamped originally on the base of each tin) prominently displayed.
 

Name that Tune
In Africa, biscuit tins were turned into musical instruments known as 'Sanzas'. They were played as a small finger piano often with the biscuit tin forming the sound box. Forms of sanza are numerous across Africa even today. The sanza on the right is an early twentieth century instrument, made from a Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin.
Sanza or thumb piano, early 20th century
Sanza or thumb piano, early 20th century
 
Tin Designs
The designs on the tins also influenced decorative items all over the globe. In Marian Wenzal's book 'House Decoration in Nubia', she describes the evolution of house decorations in northern Sudanese Nubia. Discussing Hasan Arabi's major decorative work between 1941 and 1946 she writes:
'The only Art Deco manifestations it showed were Zig Zag patterns imposed on angular, irregular shapes and rigid, rainbow coloured bands forming large chevrons. Such chevrons appeared on a Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin called the "Mayfair" and on advertisements for a kind of ginger nut biscuit called Johnny Ginger.'
 
 
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