Do you like the look of old milk cans for your home decor? Or do you want to add one (or more) to your personal antique collection, but you’re not sure how to find the right ones? In this article, we’ll look at how to date old milk cans so you can search for the perfect one for you.
History of Antique Milk Cans
With the rise of the popular farmhouse style in home decorating, older cans in great shape have become a widely-used and beautiful addition to many people’s homes. Maybe even yours! While it really is a cool idea to add them to your decor, these cans are worth more than that–did you know that they can actually be quite old and valuable?
Knowing how to date 19th-century cans can really set you up to find the perfect ones, and understanding how to date them first starts with understanding the history behind them. In some form or another, milk cans have existed for centuries and in an array of places all over the world. They were originally used to store and transport milk from cows on dairy farms.
Small dairy farms were everywhere, and each farm needed a way to store and transport milk. Cans were the perfect solution because they could be sealed shut, keeping the milk fresh. Plus, the design at the top tapers up, which kept milk from sloshing out on the bumpy wagon rides to town.
In the 19th century, farmers would not only transport milk to market in these cans, but also directly to customers. Also, they would load them onto milk carts or other forms of transportation in order to send the milk to dairy processing plants, cheese factories, or creameries. Creating food products such as butter and cheese from milk was a common practice in those days, so this particular use of milk cans was quite prevalent.
A milk can’s size varied depending on its use, and they were used right up until a few decades into the 20th century, when the invention of the refrigerated milk truck began to phase out their need.
What Were Old Milk Cans Made Of?
Milk cans were made from metal. There were many kinds of antique metal milk cans, most commonly from tin, aluminum, or galvanized steel to ward off rust. But even the detail work in the construction of these materials can help you figure out how to date old milk cans.
For instance, WikiHow tells us that there were periods of history (like the 1930s) when they used a thicker metal in the milk can’s walls and other times (the 1950s) they used a thinner tin. Also, there were eras when milk cans were soldered together in notable ways that were different in later eras. Even the construction of the lid changed over time to accommodate for things like sanitation.
So if you want to know how to date old milk cans, understanding their materials is a great place to start.
How Do You Date Antique Milk Cans?
And if you’re seriously interested in adding these sorts of antiques to your collection, you may want to know these other quick and simple tips for how to date antique milk cans. Here are some things you should keep in mind.
Company labels and icons
One way to date older milk cans is to look for company labels or a visible mascot on the milk can’s side. Take note of any brand names you see, such as any popular manufacturers like the Union Dairy Company, because you may be able to find more information about your vintage milk cans through an internet search.
Another way is to see if the can includes area codes or older phone numbers that consist of a 4-digit number, which would have been in the 1940s or earlier. Cans with numbers with 5-to-7 digits were in the 1950s and 1960s.
Paper labels & Ingredient requirements
Also according to the WikiHow article mentioned above, another way to discover how to date old milk cans is through the use of thick paper labels and even through the food ingredient requirements written on the can or label. This stands to reason, as the requirements in order to sell food have changed over time, and the labels would likely reflect those changes.
For example, words like “hermetically sealed,” “cure,” and “packed in sanitary cans,” would give a strong indicator of the decade in which the can was created, as would words like “salt added” or “sugar added.” Another example would be the inclusion of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. All of these phrases are a helpful way to date old milk cans.
A similar tip is to look for a circled C, a circled R, or a patent number on the can, which would tell you if there is a copyright or registered trademark. Since we know they didn’t really appear until the 20th century, if your old cans have any copyright information, that greatly narrows down the timeframe of when your can was produced.
What is the Value of an Antique Milk Can?
As we’ve shown throughout this article, many milk cans date back to the early 1900s, and some even before that, so if you find one that’s in good condition, it could be quite valuable.
According to Love To Know, the value of milk cans ranges between about $20 to well over $200, depending on what exactly collectors want. That’s quite interesting for something that used to be a simple tool used by farmers to transport milk from cow to home and to market!
So, if you’re interested in learning more about dating milk cans, now you know a few key things to look for. And, if you have one of these classic pieces in your possession, you may have a real treasure on your hands.
Be sure to take good care of it and with a little time and research, it’ll be easy to see how much it could be worth.
I hope you enjoyed learning about how to date old milk cans. If you’re interested in collecting antiques, they make for a great addition to any collection. Not only are they fun to look at and interesting pieces of history, but as you’ve seen in this article, they can also be quite valuable.
Next time you see one at a garage sale or flea market, don’t hesitate to snatch it up! Who knows, it could be worth more than you think.