Hills Bros. Coffee Can History

Front and back of original red Hills Bros. Coffee cans

Photos From icollector.com

Hills Brothers Coffee is one of the oldest American coffee companies. This leads to an increased interest in obtaining its original coffee packaging. The most popular is the original vacuum-sealed Hills Brothers Coffee can.

Vacuum Sealing

Hills Bros. Coffee originally started in 1873 under the name, “Arabian Coffee and Spice Mills,” but it was not until 1900 that it began a packaging revolution in the coffee industry. The can did not come first, but a coffee bin. The one son, R.W. Hills (Reuben Hills) figured out a method for taking out air when packaging the company’s coffee. It was based on a method that was used to package butter at the time. This discovery resulted in fresher beans, and therefore, a better quality product.

It is still debated to this day whether R.W. actually invented this process or if someone else did between coffee historians. Regardless, this widely became known as “vacuum packaging.” It took many of the other coffee companies about 10 years to figure out this method for their own coffee packaging. No matter who discovered this method, you can find the majority of coffee companies still using it today.

The Coffee Can

The coffee can came after the bin in 1906. The Hills brothers hired a local young artist by the name of Briggs to create their trademark, which would come to be known as the Arabian “taster.” This trademark was used to showcase their fine Ethiopian coffee. The brothers were thrilled with Briggs’s work and had it printed on their packaging, storefront, plant, and trucks.

The Hills Brothers coffee can went through many incarnations during the company’s growth. Most of the changes were in printing and height. It was not until 1914 that the cans became red. This is where the red branding that Hills Bros. Coffee is known for today began.

Collecting Cans

The Hill Brothers coffee can is now considered a popular collector item. People have written collection guides depicting everything from all the different cans available during the company’s history, how the original lithography was produced on the cans, and even multiple uses for the old tins. As to where to find these cans, you can find many of them available on online auctions. Prices will vary, but they may be considerable depending on the age of the cans.

Archaeological Link

These cans are considered incredibly strong since many of them have lasted for over a century. This is what makes them such an important tool to archaeologists. They have used these cans to these to figure out how long people have lived in certain areas based on what year their Hills Brothers Coffee can is from. It seems common to find many of these in areas where people lived in cabins, such as Alaska, due to the popularity of this coffee with gold miners. One of the guides mentioned above contains information about the chronology of the original cans so that archaeologists can use it as a field guide should they run across any.

While the original Hills Brothers Coffee cans are no longer used to package their coffee that does not mean that they were forgotten. They can be found in many places if you search long enough. If one ends up in your possession, you should take comfort in knowing that you have a little piece of American coffee history.

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