Friday, October 21, 2022

On Steel Coffee Cans

This week I finished off another coffee can of Cafe du Monde.  As always, I washed the can out and saved it.


It is stainless steel, as all of them seem to be - which remains to my complete surprise:  given the way the world works now, I would have thought almost everything would have converted to plastic at this point.

Steel coffee cans hold a treasured place in my memory.  When I was young and we would go to The Ranch when my Great Aunt and Uncle owned it, I would wander out to the barn, a three bay wooden structure with a shop on the side.  It was a marvelous collection of things to a young boy:  bits and parts of tools, odd furniture, item which I realize (only now) were of family historical significance (there was an entire blacksmith shop, if I had known it at the time). 

Scattered throughout the barn were steel coffee cans, most of the faded and a bit rusted, holding tools or nuts or parts of things.  The pictures on the side were never any brands I had heard of on the television; old brands that had long disappeared or logos that had been redesigned.  Having fulfilled their primary purpose, they had been repurposed and sat, silently waiting and slowly rusting, serving the purpose of my Aunt and Uncle and promising mystery to a young boy.

And so, I keep my coffee cans.


They have their own uses here as well, of course.  Holding things in the garage, but they have converted to other things over the years.  Planters.  Ticket holders.  Small containers for the harvest when I need something right away.

I do the same when I am at The Ranch and have built up a stash there as well.  Eventually they will migrate down to our Barn, where they will likely fulfill the same purpose.

Could I use plastic containers?  Of course.  But there is something that, to me, is magical about an empty steel coffee can, something that no plastic coffee can has ever offered me.  Perhaps it is the sense that plastic is now "common" and "common place".  Perhaps it is that steel coffee cans (the painted ones, which are by far the best instead of the plastic wrapped) preserve visual history in a way that I can see and remember.

Or, perhaps, it is because steel coffee cans bear with it a wealth of memories that remain after the coffee is gone.


24 comments:

  1. I guess if you ever get a hole in your house, be it roof, wall or floor, you can always cut the bottom out of one of those cans, flatten the sides and patch said hole. I have seen many a coffee can used in that fashion in the old cabins I have explored on my hikes in the Ozark mountains.

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    1. Ed, yet another use I had no idea of! The power of the InterWeb!

      (Now that you mention it, I do recall seeing some old chimney holes sealed this way.

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  2. Anonymous4:19 AM

    I try and save as many office coffee cans as well, though now, all are plastic red Folger's brand. The plastic are handy, but cannot be made into a heating vessel. The ordinary metal can is often now BPA plastic lined to provide more safety, but is not recommended for heating. I remember many times, the steel units were used to start plantings that were meant to be temporary and transferred to soil later.

    We use the plastic cans as water trough bailing vessels, flushing toilet when water is shut off, concrete for DIY backyard projects and storage of course. I'm sure a bird house can be made from these.\ and 'fish houses' with bottom ends joined can be sunk as well.

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    1. After I wrote this, I did recall that I have also experimented with poking holes in them for in-ground watering as well as for root containment for spreading plants like mint. I did not know about the BPA lining, but will have to look to see if that can be attended to.

      That is a great list of use for plastic cans (fish houses - how innovative). Thank you for sharing!

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  3. Anonymous4:37 AM

    :- )
    TB, you are cracking me up with a musing about coffee cans. I still stop by here each morning and lurk for a minute. I echo the kind words above regarding comfort and blessings which will be bestowed during the pending service for your father. May the Lord bless you and all that you are.
    Franknbean

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    1. FnB - This is how my mind works, veering from subject to subject. Literally every morning, I sit in front of a blinking cursor and think "What will I write about today?" It is exciting, if nothing else.

      Thank you for the kind thoughts for the service tomorrow.

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  4. I love steel cans TB and I have a lot of them in the basement too! They make great containers and some of them have the loveliest art work on them! I love the colours of your coffee can! ☺

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    1. Sorry Rain! For some reason, although I have "Publish all" comments, it did not publish yours. Silly InterWeb...

      For some reason, the Greek Coffee and the Coffee and Chicory cans are the best for color and artwork (and the fact it is painted onto the can).

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    2. LOL silly interweb! When I go to flea markets, I see lots of really nice old cans, I'm so tempted to get them!

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    3. They have market value? I had no idea. I bet some of the old cans are interesting.

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  5. I remember those cans too. I'm a sucker for saving things. I don't see it as a problem.... yet. Those plastic Folgers jugs. I use them for all kinds of things. But the metal cans are near and dear to my heart. You can use them to make a directional antenna on higher frequencies (like the old 800 MHz stuff I used to support). Great for sniffing out interference. And storing all manner of goodies.

    In college, I found out there is a mathematical formula for minimizing the amount of metal and maximizing the volume. That's why almost all cans have the same ratio of diameter to height.

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    1. For some reason, the ratio of height over radius equal to 2 comes to mind as the optimum ratio. I don't drink coffee but that sounds about right for a coffee can.

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    2. STxAR - They are darn useful things and effectively free, as I have already paid for the coffee. And now, even more uses!

      That mathematical formula is interesting. Makes sense, given it is a controllable cost for the manufacturer (who undoubtedly wants to spend as little as possible on it).

      Delete
  6. raven7:42 AM

    Storage containers are a essential part of living- look at what we dig up- containers, tools ,clothes and weapons. If food and water and essentials cannot be stored, death follows right along behind. My take is the abundance of throwaway containers has blinded us to their value.
    BTW, "The Gods Must be Crazy" is a fun take on this idea.

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    1. They are essential, and something that I suspect you are quite correct on: modern civilization takes them for granted, but the ancient and pre-modern world knew much better (like many things, those darn ancient and pre-modern people knew a lot more than we give them credit for).

      You are right about "The Gods Must Be Crazy". I should look for that movie - it has been years since I have seen it.

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  7. And as you mentioned rust, they are biodegradable, eventually, whereas plastic takes forever, if ever.
    Blessings and comfort to you and yours, TB.

    You all be safe and God bless.

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    1. Yet another benefit of the cans, Linda. Plastic literally is forever - something we completely forget about.

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  8. And if you have one of those new-fangled can openers that cuts the side away, you can open the can, use the contents, fill the now empty can with something completely different, glue the lid back on with superglue and gift the can to someone.

    This also works great with easy opening cans.

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    1. This, John, is brilliance. I may or may not be putting this in the back of my brain for use later....

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    2. It is brilliant and it isn't my idea.
      I should have credited it to the unknown person who thought of it and posted it on the internet.

      Delete
  9. Zil Trabant1:11 PM

    Back when local realty signs were made of metal to withstand the seasons, a bud used some to fill out a rusted trunk on a 1965 Chevy Impala until a good salvage yard session could find the actual replacement pieces.

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    1. Zil, I can barely remember those days - but that sounds like a very innovative and creative use. Steel, tools, and creativity can do almost anything.

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  10. Our preferred coffee comes in plastic these days, but my wife uses hominy in her cooking and the huge cans it comes in find their way to the barn. I get use out of both the plastic and steel cans. I bought a bunch of hardware at a yard sale a while back that was contained in coffee cans so old they were unsealed with a key! I think they were from Chase & Sanborn coffee. Steel works better for things like catching oil, gasoline, or the like when I'm working on small engines. The plastic ones make great scoops for chicken feed and dog food. They also make good "nursery pots" for seed planting.
    Both work well as hardware containers, and both see LOOOOONG afterlives here at Rancho Whybother!

    You're right though; the old steel ones are time machines...

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    1. Pete, I drink four coffees: the general one at New Home (beans, comes in a bag), two different canned types at The Ranch (steel cans, but with plastic wrappers), and my beloved Cafe du Monde above, which is my "treat myself" coffee. So I get at least three streams of cans.

      Those old cans (with a key) sound fun!

      Both kinds have their uses, and if I go to the barn here at The Ranch, I am bound to find the red plastic Folgers cans my father kept over the years hard at work today.

      To Raven's point above, in our "use and get rid of" or "use and recycle" society, we forget how valuable things are - or that "recycle" often just means "put to another use".

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