Wednesday, March 11, 2015

An Unusual Vintage Collectible

This blog entry is not appropriate for everyone.

 What single item can prevent death and also prevent life?

 A condom. Think HIV. Think pregnancy.

 It wasn't until the 1920's that the latex condom was invented. The history of the condom is one of various materials: goat's bladders, oiled silk paper, lamb intestines, tortoise shells, even animal horns (try that one on for size). By the 16th century "linen sheaths" were tried. Rubber condoms arrived on the scene in 1855 and that's when the generic name stuck: rubbers.

 In the United States, the Comstock Laws (1873) prohibited contraceptive information from being mailed. Various state laws banned both the manufacture and sale of condoms. Northern Ohio, being a center of rubber manufacture, apparently wasn't one of them.

 Some time back, Tom bought an unusual vintage tin. "I bought the condom tin from Hakes," Tom said, "a well known auction house pre-Internet." He lost track of it. It ended up here in a box of pins which I've posted on eBay for him.

 The little tin was the most interesting object in the box. Just 2-2/16" x 1-9/16" x 5/16", the item was certainly throw-away at one time but it's well-made and strong. The artwork is beautifully rendered.

 Not three, but "1/4 dozen". And nothing said about condoms at all! Just "Genuine Texide. Product of liquid latex". The manufacturer, L.E Shunk Latex Products, Inc., was located in Akron, Ohio.
 I remember seeing my first condom dispenser in a gas station bathroom when I was a little kid. I didn't know what they were but I wanted one. Dad explained their purpose but I can't say I understood a word.

 The reverse shows natives stripping bark from rubber trees.

 Latex, which is rubber suspended in water, was invented in 1920. Nine years later latex found its way into the manufacture of condoms. Latex condoms were something of a revolution: both lighter and stronger than rubber. It's still the favored material.

 Tom's condom tin is circa 1931 ... 84 years old!

 The tin, empty, generally sells for about $20 (2115 figure). If the box contains the three original condoms, it's value increases to somewhere between $60 and $80. "Open the tin," Tom said. "I think there is still a condom inside."

 "To open, press here" is printed on one edge. Do you remember the small metal tins aspirins were once sold in, to be carried in a pocket or purse? This is the same idea. When pressed on one edge, the tin's lid pops open.

And this, after all those years, is what I found ...

 Two of the three condoms are still there. One is dark and aged, probably ready to crumble. The other actually looks fairly fresh. Both are wrapped in thin paper sleeves. The third?

 It's shadow is still imprinted on the inside lid of the tin. Beyond that, well, we'll just have to guess.

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