The Princess Mary Tin

In November 1914, an advertisement was placed in Britain's national press inviting monetary contributions to a "Sailors & Soldiers Christmas Fund." The fund was the idea of Princess Mary, the 17 year old daughter of King George V. The purpose was to provide everyone wearing the King's uniform and serving overseas on Christmas Day 1914 with a "gift from the nation."

The response was truly overwhelming, and it was decided to spend the money on an embossed brass box, based on a design by Misters Adshead & Ramsey. The contents varied considerably. Officers and men on active service afloat or at the front received a box containing a combination of pipe, lighter, 1 oz of tobacco and 20 cigarettes in distinctive yellow monogrammed wrappers. Non-smokers and boys received a sterling silver bullet pencil in a .303 cartridge and a pack of sweets instead. Indian troops often got sweets and spices. Nurses were treated to chocolate. Contrary to opinion, they did not contain cigars. Many of these items were distributed separately from the tins themselves, as once the issue of tobacco and cigarettes was placed in the tin there was little room for much else apart from the greeting card. 

        Some historians believe that these may have played a small part in the famous Christmas truce of 1914. In many places along the front lines the trenches of the opposing armies were separated by as little as 50 yards and often the soldiers would shout back and forth sometimes allowing them to retrieve their wounded comrades from no-man's land. Soldiers on both sides received Christmas gift boxes from home, setting the stage for a brief time of fraternization swapping cigarettes and tobacco in a moment of peace.

        At first, these 5” long containers were made of solid brass, but brass was a critical metal in short supply, so later boxes were made of a plated alloy of inferior quality. More than 2,500,000 of these gift boxes were ultimately distributed to the soldiers and sailors, as well as to the parents or widows of those killed in action. The over-worked postal service was unable to deliver all the gifts in time for Christmas, and, in fact, reported as late as 1919 that a considerable number remained undelivered.


Text by Dick Elliott


Cigarette Pack

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  This article has been modified slightly from the original appearing in BRANDSTAND.




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Items pictured below are not in the NCM collection.