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November 16, 2010

“3 Merry Widows” Tin

Filed under: What's New — Matt Anderson @ 9:53 am

Sometimes the smallest objects are the most interesting. This little tin canister, measuring 1 5/8 inches in diameter and 5/8 inch deep, was discovered buried in a yard off of St. Paul’s West Seventh Street. In fact, it was found along with nearly 70 other identical tins. Now, finding 70 of anything in a yard is unusual, but these are no mere containers. No, these tins once held condoms.

“3 Merry Widows” was a popular brand of prophylactic in the early 20th Century, and this aluminum container probably dates to the 1920s or 1930s. Latex condoms didn’t take over the market until the 1930s, so the three “widows” once contained inside may have been of the older cement rubber variety. While the thicker rubber condoms had their disadvantages, they were more durable, and could even be reused.

The donor, having found so many of these items near her house, naturally wondered if her neighborhood once hosted a bordello. The location – half-way between downtown St. Paul and Fort Snelling – certainly would have been convenient. Unfortunately, a search through the Society’s library was inconclusive. (But really, those businesses weren’t the type to be listed in city directories!) We might speculate that the tin came from a brothel, but we won’t state it as fact, just to be safe – like the tin’s original owner.

Matt Anderson
Objects Curator

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8 Responses to ““3 Merry Widows” Tin”

  1. Lyndell Hanson Says:

    Att: Matt Anderson, I Live in north central Kansas.The other day I was going through a box of junk I had bought at a sale sometime ago. and in this colection of mostly throw away items mostly hair brushes some old belts and other things I found a small round tin that had something in it. but on the lid it was stamped with a big 3 and the words Merry Widows, below that was Price $1.00. Below that in a half moon is printed SLECTED-TESTED . The 3 widows inside are partly deteriated but you can tell what they are supposed to be. The can is made of alimnium so it may have been from a latter erra. please let me know if you can give me any information on the time period thanks.

    Matt Anderson reply on April 25th, 2011:

    Thanks for your comment. The best reference I can recommend is the book Remember Your Rubbers!: Collectible Condom Containers by G.K. Elliott, George Goehring, and Dennis O’Brien. It’s probably the only book of its kind!

  2. Tim Stogdill Says:

    Was putting a pool in our back yard and while digging 3 or 4 inches down in the dirt, found my 3 merry widows tin. Had no clue what it was until I found this article, luckily nothing in the tin, but very cool souvenir. Found East Peoria, IL. Does anyone know where the Merry Widows tins were made?

  3. Pamela Finley Says:

    I found a similiar tin. Rectangle blue aqua color and written on it just MERRY WIDOW (it resembles an aspirin tin, but a little larger) It was in the wall of our house and is in excellent condition. On the tin is printed the words Sold for the prevention of disease..

  4. Shawn White Says:

    A friend brought his detector over to go thru my yard and we found a tin like in the pic, slightly smashed, but for being buried for many decades is still in decent condition. This is an old mining, so there might be a few more in the area.

  5. Bob Taylor Says:

    Delighted to have found this thread! My 95 year old uncle and I were talking about such a tin just yesterday. When he was 9 (1925), he burned his foot badly in molten lead, as he was playing around a gas-main project in Jacksonville, FL. He remembered having found a 3 Merry Widows tin in the (dirt) road before the injury. He even believes he knows the names of the 3 Widows (learned at a somewhat older age, I imagine): Mabel, Becky and Agnes.

    Hey, I believe him! You’d have to know my uncle to really appreciate him, I think. Thanks for all your information, folks!

  6. Suzanne Cobb Says:

    Wow! I and my boyfriend were fishing on a creek bank. After a few hours and a few fish. They had stopped biting. So we started to leave. We took a path through the woods where the rain had washed through the woods. I looked down and there was the tin. I picked it up, brought it home, and Google got me here. Cool beans!

    DocBeav reply on May 18th, 2013:

    Found one this past April and posted it here:

    Pretty cool find and it was complete! In great shape!

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