Miniature Tin Alphabet ABC Plate
Grinding Old Into Young
This rare miniature tin plate measures just 2 1/4" in diameter. The early pressed or hammered tin plate was originally covered with silvering, which long ago was worn away, leaving an original untouched patina of old tarnished tin with just wisps of silver.
The tiny plate features the letters of the alphabet around the edge. The plate may have been made as a child's toy, but given its subject matter, it was more appropriate for adults. The ABC's encircle a semi-gruesome image of a funnel shaped meat grinder or mill with old men climbing to the top and jumping in, and babies are popping out the bottom. The grinder is monogrammed with the letters `VR' for Queen Victoria. The image is titled GRINDING OLD MEN INTO YOUNG.
The concept of restoring old age to youth was a favorite subject of early satire and old chap prints in England. We have included a photo of the source print for the tin plate, an original copperplate engraving (published by Sayer of Fetter Lane, London, 20 x 29cms, undated but c 1750.) The engraving satirizes sex as rejuvenation. It shows a hand-mill, into which decrepit old men enter by means of a ladder, most of them with a glass in hand, greatly elated by the prospect of being young again. A young maid turns the handle of the grinder and out from the bottom appear handsome young men. Pretty girls stand at the side ready to receive the rejuvenated men, walking off with them, their arms twined affectionately round their necks – the whole affair a decided improvement upon the usual way of viewing old age. (The engraving also contains the lyrics from the old English ballad titled "Miller's Maid Grinding Old Men Young".) The imagery speaks volumes about the humor and attitudes of the English, for whom laughter was the best medicine.
The tiny plate has no makers mark. In great condition, with no bends creases or rust. The silvering is gone and the metal base has a nice dense patina consistent with age. Discoloration on back side appears to be remants of old darkened glue (from where the tiny plate was glued into a scrap book.) A remarkably clean and crisp example. A pocket size work of art.
This miniature plate with an irresistible theme is a fabulous addition to any collection of early tin.