My first cracker tin called to me at a benefit flea market at the Armory in Victoria, British Columbia. It commemorated Ritz crackers’ 60th anniversary and was printed in French and English, the official languages of Canada. The collection now includes 70 tins from England, Scotland, Holland, Canada, Japan, France, Israel, Malaysia, Italy, Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and the United States.
Cracker tins evolved to preserve softer versions of ancient “hardtack” or pilot bread, a.k.a. ship or sea biscuits, all thought to aid digestion. Sailors thought if crackers were hard enough and stored properly they would last forever.
In 1801 Josiah Bent of Massachusetts left some biscuits in his oven too long whereupon they made a crackling sound, leading to the name “crackers,” as distinguished from the British term “biscuits.” Eventually Bent sold his cracker business to the National Biscuit Company, which is now Nabisco.