Tinkers (ganomatides or kalaїtzides) undertook the repair of brassware (copper utensils), known as tinning, while seldom, they were also coppersmiths. The tinker’s craft was very common and profitable until the mid-20th century, when many households used copperware (pots and pans, baking pans, casseroles, cutlery, lanterns, ecclesiastical objects etc.) being oxidised after long use. Besides the deterioration of the utensils’ appearance, oxidation could also cause intoxication (at least the kitchen utensils). The art of tinning, like most of the handcrafts, was passed on from one generation to the next, from father to son, or from craftsmen with long experience to young apprentices. Tinkers practised their craft either in their workshop, or by travelling all around the villages where they usually stayed for as long as it was required to tin the utensils of the locals.

The materials they used for the repair and making (in case they were also coppersmiths) of copper utensils were copper, tin, nitric acid, sal ammoniac, spirit of salt (hydrochloric acid) and their tools included a hammer, compasses, scissors, smith’s pliers, a brazier, an anvil, and a shallow round vessel (tavas) where they threw the remains of tin to use them again.

The copperware making followed five phases. First, the tinker made the walls of the pot, hitting the copper with a hammer to form a cylindrical shape and then he connected the two ends with bronze welding (using molten bronze filings). In the second phase, he made the bottom of the pot, cutting with the scissors a disk of copper with radius equal to the radius of the circumference of the pot’s walls and made notches (“keys”) at their lower part and at the rims of the bottom. In the third phase he joined the notches of the bottom with those of the walls by using bronze welding. In the fourth phase, he tin-plated the pot, by melting tin and spreading it with a cotton cloth, and finished by adding handles (where needed), the size of which was relative to the size of the pot.

The tinning procedure started with the cleaning of the pot (for the rust to be removed) first at the outside and then at the inside surface. He burnt the outside of the pot and rubbed it with a special solution. After spreading spirit of salt at the interior surface he rubbed it with sand and then warmed it again, poured sal ammoniac, wiped it and finally spread the tin with a cotton cloth. Occasionally, for the better cooling down of the tin he poured cold water on it (tempering – metal dyeing procedure). Depending on the use of each utensil, some times the tinning results lasted up to three years.

The decline of the tinker’s craft occurred with the appearance of the aluminium and enamelwares in the market. Today there are very few craftsmen.

Sources used

  • Interview with Lefteris [tinker] in Chios, 07/07/2005