The Tinsmithing Heritage Project is an effort to highlight the history of tinsmithing as a trade, a heritage craft, and a largely forgotten skill. We will tell the history of tinsmithing through images and other visual media, tools, artifacts, and documents. In essence, we strive to be a museum about tinsmithing, but unlike a traditional brick and glass museum, we will tell this story exclusively online. Telling our story online allows us to be more nimble than a traditional museum, avoiding the expense of a physical building and, in times like these, the uncertainties associated with pandemic-era visitation. That said, however, even an online project like this has a cost to it, mostly the time of the person who organizes it and the expense of creating and maintaining a website . So, if you like what you see, please be generous and help support the project financially.
The Tinsmithing Heritage Project is the creation of Dr. Karl J. Schmidt, a retired professor of history. After a 32-year career teaching history at the university-level, he made a career change, becoming a full-time historical tinsmith and owner of Dakota Tinworks. Combining his love of history with a love of tinsmithing as a heritage craft, the Tinsmithing Heritage Project is the perfect outlet for sharing his interests with a wider audience around the world. Karl will act as director of the project and chief curator.
By Karl J. Schmidt, Director and Chief Curator
Tinsmithing Heritage Project
For some time now, I've been thinking about a project that focuses solely on tinsmithing as a historical trade and heritage craft. No such project exists anywhere in the world. Some museums and historical sites have some space devoted to a tinsmith's shop, but it's typically just one of many features of those museums or sites, and even if they have a dedicated historical tin shop, it's usually interpreted for a specific time period. This isn't a negative -- it's just that if someone wanted to know more about the full sweep of tinsmithing over a range of time periods, it would necessitate visiting multiple sites. And that's a great idea, but if someone were of more modest means, that might be impossible. This is why an online museum is so important, especially in times of uncertainty like these regarding COVID-19.
I come at historical tinsmithing from perhaps an unusual perspective. I spent more than three decades as an academic historian, teaching courses at the university level. I spent a career immersed in historical documents and artifacts. Only later did I become a working historical tinsmith myself. As a result, an online project like this combines both of my interests and draws upon my experience and expertise.
As is everything on the internet, this project is a work in progress. In the coming months, I'll be adding more photos and documents, curating special collections of images and other materials to frame important concepts, to make the Tinsmithing Heritage Project, hopefully, a valuable learning space for anyone interested in tinsmithing as a trade and craft.
A special exhibit featuring period imagery depicting tinsmiths and tin shops of the 17th through 19th centuries. International in nature, they include British, French, and German engravings and prints.
A full-color online magazine about tinsmithing heritage.
A series of patent documents detailing inventions in the United States as they relate to tinsmithing.
Downloadable historical documents related to the history of tinsmithing.