The custom of giving anniversary gifts of increasing value through the years of marriage originated in medieval Germany but was interpreted in a whimsical manner in Victorian America. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the tenth–or tin–anniversary became an occasion of riotous celebration, and whimsical gifts made of tin were presented to the married couple. Often they were oversized replicas of everyday items or humorous pieces with personal meaning. In 1881 John H. Young wrote that the custom of "celebrating wedding anniversaries has of late been largely practiced." Ten years later, Richard A. Wells, in Culture and Dress of the Best Society, suggested that a "general frolic is in order at the tin wedding. It is an occasion for getting together old friends after ten years of married life. . . . The invitations for this anniversary may be made upon cards covered with tin foil or upon the ordinary wedding note paper with a tin card enclosed. Those guests who desire to accompany their congratulations with appropriate presents have the whole list of articles manufactured by the tinner from which to select."
Professional tinsmiths cut the pieces from sheet tin using templates, and the sections were soldered together. The seams were hooked over each other and hammered to create a tight seal. Surviving anniversary tin demonstrates not only the skill with which the items were fashioned but also the variety of forms available. The bonnet, top hat, and eye-glasses are part of a group of more than twenty pieces that were discovered together in Gobles, Michigan, and were probably gifts from a single tenth-anniversary celebration.
Stacy C. Hollander, "Anniversary Tin: Candelabrum," in American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 352–353.