For the love of Shakespeare

By Alex Hutchinson, Nestlé UK Archivist and Historian

23 May 2016 See comments (2)

*Warning - this is one of my longer blogs and is really for my fellow packaging geeks*

Shakespeare Tin In Archive

I hope you're all enjoying the BBC's Shakespeare Festival as much as I am. Now seems like a good time to share one of my absolute favourite items from the archive: The Shakespeare Tin. Well, one of the Shakespeare tins; I'm working up quite a collection in varying degrees of rustiness.

I think this is probably the tin that I receive most questions about from consumers; lots of people write in to me and say "can you tell me anything about my very rare tin?" and I always try not to let on that they're quite common, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Full Shakespeare Tin


The fact is, there are loads of these tins; Rowntree's made them in industrial quantities, and because they're so lovely lots and lots of them have survived (very often with the card bookmark inside).

tin with bookmark


The tin itself is about six inches long and about two inches wide, with scenes from the Bard's plays on every side except the base, where there is a line drawing of the factory, and coats of arms for the royal warrant.

Base of Shakespeare tin


My favourite image is the scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream on the top of the tin:

Midsummer Nights Dream One


Midsummer Nights Dream Two

Although the scenes from Hamlet...

Hamlet on tin 


Macbeth on tin

...The Merchant of Venice...

Merchant of Venice on tin

...Romeo and Juliet...

Romeo and Juliet on tin

...and, of course, Falstaff in Henry IV (see the first image at the top) are gorgeous too.

I've seen a few websites listing the tin as Victorian, but the royal warrants on the base and bookmark are a bit of a giveaway: they are to the King and Queen so they must date from after Queen Victoria's death (1901). Judging by the coat of arms of the Queen they mention, this tin dates from the reign of Queen Victoria's grandson, King George V. If you look at the Queen's coat of arms you will see a detailed shield being supported on either side by a lion and a stag; if this were the coat of arms of Queen Victoria's daughter-in-law then instead of a stag opposite the lion we would expect to see a picture of a man wearing nothing but some leaves and carrying a big wooden club (don't believe me? Look it up!).

All this means that our tin must have been made sometime after 1910, because that was the year of King George's accession to the throne, but can we get any closer to the date? Possibly. The line drawing of the York factory seems to show the Dining Block (now the Nuffield Hospital) over on the Haxby road in the far distance which was opened in 1913. It's tempting to think that the tin might have been made for the Bard's anniversary in 1916, but the factory was on wartime production, so I doubt it. One thing we can be confident of is that it probably doesn't date from much later than 1927; the card bookmark inside the tin is advertising Elect chocolate bars which were Rowntree's flagship chocolate until the launch of the York brand in the mid-20's. So, we can't put an exact date on it, but somewhere from 1913 - 1925 is about right.

The other question that the tin raises is what did it contain and how much would it have cost? I think that this is one of our Gift Caskets that regular drinker's of Elect Cocoa could save up tokens for and order by post. You can see an advertisement for another gift casket in the photos below, and some of the tokens that consumers would collect inside the tins. Promotions like this were used by drinking cocoa companies to try to encourage consumers not to buy competitors' products.


gift casket and tokens 


This casket would probably have contained an assortment of chocolates and Fruit Pastilles, but I'm sure I've seen an advertisement for it somewhere with loose Fruit Pastilles in it, I've just got to remember what I saw it in and where I put it...


  1. Angela Gardham @ 31 Edgeware Rd, Fishergate

    05 Mar 2018 - 15:31 (GMT)

    I bought one from St Leonard's vintage shop in Selby this morning.It is lined with a promotional inset for pastilles and clear gums.I will send you a photo if you like.

  2. Alex Hutchinson - Archivist and Historian @ Nestlé

    16 Mar 2018 - 16:23 (GMT)

    Dear Angela,

    I'm so glad you've been able to find one! You've got one of my all-time favourite tins! It's a lovely example of that era of packaging design. I hope it brings you much joy this springtime.

    Kind regards,


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