Lithographed tinplate is comprised of both steel and tin; this was used for traditional oilcans because of its low cost and ability to be rapidly manufactured. It is also very lightweight, extremely durable, and waterproof – all important qualities to properly store and preserve the olive oil. The origin of the tin is uncertain, but is thought to originally come from Germany, and later from England.
The creation of the tinplate used for the oilcans began by beating a sheet of iron flat and then dipping it in molten tin; after this, the combined metals were treated and washed. The lithography for the images on the cans was inspired by Alois Senefelder, who, at the end of the 18th Century, created a method to print literary and musical works. He had moved to Monaco, where he discovered that the stone used in construction could be manipulated to create reliefs of patterns and images. Lithography, refined over the following years, became more efficient, and thus, easier to use on tinplates in mass production.
The creation of lithography techniques coincided with the timing of Italy’s olive oil export: two industries came together to allow Italy’s precious olive oil to be used and enjoyed on a global scale. Although techniques for oilcan production have changed over the years, the original methods can still be celebrated through their preservation in our museum.