So there we were sitting around with all our stone tools and pottery around 3000 BC. We felt we had a handle on the whole farming thing, and were ready for something fresh. Cue the adventurous metal-worker with his pot of molten copper. He added a little bit of tin and viola… the birth of the bronze age. It was only about 5% tin, but the resulting metal alloy was significantly stronger and easier to work with than straight copper. With new improved bronze weapons and armor, there was a whole lotta shakin’ going on for the next couple thousand years. (Roman armies even marched as far north as Britain in order to control the tin mines)
For the last few hundred years tin has been used primarily for its ability to withstand corrosion. It won’t rust from exposure to water or air, and was/is often used as a tin-plating over stronger structural metals like steel. Most of the time what we call tin is not really tin. Tinfoil, tin toys, tin cans, even the tin whistle… most are either a tin-plated steel, or no longer use tin at all having been bumped out by cheaper, easier aluminum.
Tin doesn’t corrode easily but cold temperatures can cause it to decompose into powder. After a long cold winter, the tin pipes of the church pipe organ might show signs of this ‘tin pest’ (also called ‘tin leprosy’), and in the middle ages they, naturally, assumed this decay was a sign of the devil infecting the church.
The real reason for my rambling on about tin today relates to a Germanic custom from the middle ages. It was tradition, on a 25th wedding anniversary, to present a bride with a silver wreath. Then at the 50th, a gold wreath. The gold/silver tradition was passed down and in the Victorian era in England, more traditional gifts were added for other years. The most famous of which is the diamond anniversary, originally to signify 75 years, but it got bumped up to 60 years for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. (she wasn’t getting any younger!)
By the time the 20th century rolled around, there were eight anniversaries of note with corresponding physical items. Tin was oddly decreed to go with the tenth wedding anniversary, and for all the searching in the world I (and other, better, researchers) can’t figure out why. I doubt it’s because the element of tin has 10 stable isotopes. That’s not very romantic. Not near as romantic as a can of beans.
Bonus Fact: Interesting to note, the “traditional” anniversary list has things like paper, tin, cotton, and other random affordable things. Not so long ago, a “modern” list of recommended items was promoted that is much more focused on various gems and precious metals. The sponsors of said list was the jewelery industry. Hmmm, fancy that.
Super Bonus Fact: Today in Omaha, David and Marci are celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary. For David’s sake, perhaps I should not mention that the “modern” equivalent to the “traditional” gift of tin is… diamond jewelery! Myself, believing it’s the thought that counts, would opt for canned fruit, and a note saying “may our love never rust”. Awwww!