The humble kerosene tin was prized as a recyclable commodity in the Great Depression

Multi-use: Kerosene tins double as a chest of drawers, on display at the Gloucester Historical Museum. Photo supplied.

Multi-use: Kerosene tins double as a chest of drawers, on display at the Gloucester Historical Museum. Photo supplied.

Households used a lot of kerosene throughout the year, especially before the arrival of electricity. The kerosene lamp gave off better light than candles or an oil lamp, and kerosene was used to power early refrigerators and heaters. Many of the first farm tractors were fuelled by kerosene.

It was sold in 4 gallon (18.2L) tins, so each family had many tins to re-use and recycle. During the Depression of the 1930s kerosene tins reached their height of popularity. These tins could be used as buckets, stoves, drawers, billies, troughs or cut up to make other useful objects.

The tin could patch a leaking roof or serve as a wind break through slab walls. They became shiny chimneys or were snipped into pieces to repair farm machinery. As a measure, a tin held 30lb (13kg) wheat, 28lb (12.7kg) maize or potatoes, 25lb (11.3kg) barley or 10lb (4.kg) bran or 4 gallons (18.2lt) liquid.

Hanging over an open fire or on top of the wood stove it could supply the household with hot water. Christmas dinner or at least the pudding may have been cooked in it. Harvesting the fruit and vegetables, as a container to hold the "water glass" (sodium silicate) preserved eggs for winter.

Cut down it made a cake tin or baking tray, a good letter box or, filled with concrete, white ant proof piers for the homestead. Cut diagonally along its length it could serve as two hanging shelves. Halved, it made solid storage containers in the shed for nuts, bolts and other bits and pieces. It was excellent as a dog dish, or water trough for the chooks.

Indoors, furnishings and utilities were fabricated, from the versatile kero tin. A half tin cut diagonally was large enough to hold a baby, and with the addition of wire attached to a pole, provided our forebears with a swinging cradle.

They served as a very effective chest of drawers, made by inserting a number of tins into a wooden frame, or a tin cut diagonally could be a washing up dish and drainer. You can see two fine examples of this on display at the museum

Today, we see the humble kerosene tin in a more limited capacity in the construction of retro furnishings. Some originals are even sought after as expensive collectibles.

Comments