A History of Ceiling Tin
Antique tin ceiling tiles were produced between 1880 and WWI as an economical way to imitate European decorative plaster and as a consumer product to support the rapidly growing steel industry. Ceiling tile production for the most part ended with WWI.
After the war consumer tastes changed and tin ceiling tiles were no longer considered fashionable. Buildings were demolished and bulldozed, the ceilings were taken out of buildings and discarded, or they were covered with dry wall or drop ceilings, or painted over. Today as buildings are being razed, an industry has grown around reclaiming tiles to use in new buildings or in producing modern decorative arts.
Often called ceiling tin, the tiles are made of steel with various alloys added to retard rust, of which tin was one. The early production process used thin rolled sheets of steel placed on top of a patterned mould, a reverse mould was hoisted by a pulley system to a preset height, and that mould was dropped onto the steel thereby stamping the pattern. For deep patterns, the steel had to be sufficiently thick to avoid tearing the metal. The older heavier steel is known as heavy gauge steel. Later, hydraulic equipment was used to stamp the steel which did not require the metal to be as thick and more modern alloys were used to prevent tearing.
The ceiling tiles were only made in North America. There are hundreds of designs from plain to very ornate, to custom designs for a single building. The patterns run from the Victorian through the Art Deco period.
Most tiles were made in 2x2, 2x4, or 2x8 foot sections. There were often exceptions for custom buildings or for tin used on walls. There were also 3x3 and 4x4 square feet ceiling pieces to showcase lighting fixtures which make stunning plaques. There was also "tin" that was used on the outside of buildings but that is increasingly rare due to exposure to the elements.
Laws in many states have increased taxes on vacant buildings to encourage demolishing them. With each passing day these beautiful ceilings are becoming increasingly rare and expensive. We support preservation efforts which designate buildings as historic and preserve tin ceilings. We make home decoratives from tin ceilings that cannot be placed in another building.
When visiting old buildings, we hope you will take time to appreciate the tin ceilings. We often find them in historic districts and in restaurants and retail stores.
Please consider owning a piece of unique Americana while supporting a new “Made in America” industry.