"3 Merry Widows" Tin

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The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.

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"3 Merry Widows" Tin

By: admin | What's New | November 16, 2010
Sometimes the smallest objects are the most interesting. This little tin canister, measuring 1 5/8 inches in diameter and 5/8 inch deep, was discovered buried in a yard off of St. Paul's West Seventh Street. In fact, it was found along with nearly 70 other identical tins. Now, finding 70 of anything in a yard is unusual, but these are no mere containers. No, these tins once held condoms.

"3 Merry Widows" was a popular brand of prophylactic in the early 20th Century, and this aluminum container probably dates to the 1920s or 1930s. Latex condoms didn't take over the market until the 1930s, so the three "widows" once contained inside may have been of the older cement rubber variety. While the thicker rubber condoms had their disadvantages, they were more durable, and could even be reused.

The donor, having found so many of these items near her house, naturally wondered if her neighborhood once hosted a bordello. The location - half-way between downtown St. Paul and Fort Snelling - certainly would have been convenient. Unfortunately, a search through the Society's library was inconclusive. (But really, those businesses weren't the type to be listed in city directories!) We might speculate that the tin came from a brothel, but we won't state it as fact, just to be safe - like the tin's original owner.

Matt Anderson
Objects Curator