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Retablos on Tin
The exchange of messages about Mexican retablos painted on tin left unanswered the question of the origin of the tin. Linda Nyquist says: "Where do tin cans come from? and tin containers? They also used tin lanterns in the last century, and it never occurred to me to question the origin of the tin itself. Given that these works were 'folk art', I thought that the tin was probably salvaged from something else and pounded into flat pieces for painting."
My comment: From ancient times, tin was well-known in Europe, coming from Cornwall. It was allied with copper to make bronze. The only tin-producing area in the Americas is Bolivia. The United States imports a lot of it from Bolivia. Possibly Mexico did too, but it is also possible that it was re-exported from the United States. There is plenty of copper in Latin America. La Virgen del Cobre in Cuba testifies to that. Was there bronze in pre-Colombian Peru and elsewhere? We should be careful: Tin is used mainly for plating, a tin can being made of steel plated with tin. Alloyed with other metals, tin forms pewter. The metal used for decorations was lead (which is abundant) alloyed with a small amount of tin. I am wondering if he Mexican tin retablos were really made of pewter. Probably the tin of the retablos was hojalata, an alloy of copper and zinc (both abundant in the Americas), without any tin.
I will ask Mexicans here if they can throw any light on this.
Ronald Hilton - 5/20/00