When an officer purchased a pith helmet before heading to the tropics he usually purchased a storage case for it. Pith helmets were relatively fragile and reasonably expensive, so a storage tin helped protect them and keep them in good condition for longer. These tins were usually made of japanned tinplate. Japanning was a process by which layers of black lacquer were built up on the surface of the metal, each layer being heated or allowed to dry before the next was applied. The final layer was then buffed up to a high gloss and the resultant article looked shiny and particularly smart. In 1907 a tin for a Wolseley helmet cost 3/- (3 shillings), a small investment to keep your pith helmet intact. Sadly this example of the tin has suffered over the last eighty or ninety years and is rather rusty. Despite that, it is a fascinating example of one of the more common designs:
Examples exist that are far taller and can hold two pith helmets, but this example is of the more common single helmet design. I do not have a private purchase pith helmet to use with this tin, however an enlisted man’s helmet does well at showing how the tin was used:
As can be seen, the tin is roughly oval in cross section and fits the brim of the helmet nicely, with the sloping sides of the tin matching the contours of the helmet. In order to allow the tin to be carried easily, a single wire handle is fitted to the top:
Due to the value of the contents, a hasp is included to allow a padlock to be used to secure the tin, sadly missing on this example:
It was obviously essential to be able to pick out your tin from dozens of identical examples on the quayside when reaching your destination or when travelling up to a hill station with other officers. This tin therefore has the owner’s name painted onto the front:
Further shipping instructions are painted onto the base where they are unobtrusive:
The three bars at the bottom are War Office baggage codes and would originally have been in different colours to help with loading of transports. The three horizontal stripes translated into the last two digits of the unit’s code number, with the rest of the number painted above. Sadly the colours are long gone so it is impossible to work out which unit this man belonged to. They do indicate that the tin was in use towards the end of World War II as the stripes were only introduced in 1943. Also painted on the bottom is the word ‘CABIN’ and this is repeated on the rear:
This indicated that the tin was not to be placed in the ship’s hold with the other luggage, but was to be left in the officer’s cabin as he would need to use it on the journey. Sadly this example has suffered over the years, but is back being used for what it was designed for, holding a pith helmet, although I have carefully wrapped it in brown paper as I don’t fancy leaving the fabric in contact with the metal, even though the interior is in better condition than the exterior.