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By Clifford Stanley
With the rise of plastic utensils in recent years, tinsmithing, which involves the manufacture and repairing of a variety of containers made out of metals such as tin, zinc and aluminium should have been a dying trade.
Indeed, Tinsmithy, was in the mid-1990s described elsewhere as a vanishing trade. But in the words of popular Tinsmith of #5 Village West Coast Berbice Malcolm Wayne Mingo the trade as far as demand for products is concerned has survived these ascents to modernity. Today he said the demand for the products of the age-old trade, is as strong as ever and for Mingo the only problem which may affect its viability is a lack of successors to the trade.
As far as he knows there are only two other men in Region 5 (Mahaica/Berbice) and West Coast Berbice who still continue to be practitioners.
At age 57, Mingo has been a Tinsmith for the past thirty years. He has made in a very painstaking and oftentimes painful manner all sorts of products from metal. These include wate
ring cans, dustpans, bird cages, cake pans of various shapes and designs, metal baking ovens, measuring cups, mop buckets, fire buckets chicken killers (the container in which you put the chicken upside down before killing it, covers for Kahari (large open cooking pans), letter boxes for the front gates, rice strainers, pans for weight measuring scales, metal piggy banks, among others.
Working from under his house, his tools are mainly a hammer, a mallet, a shears, a metal punch, a square, a measuring ruler. The main material used is 28-gauge galvalume.
He uses templates for the various products to cut the metal to the right shapes and then folds the material into the desired shape- a process he calls rivet and fold.
He said he once used the acid involved in cleaning the metal for soldering but found that it caused adverse effects on his body. “Smelling that acid caused me a headache. The alternation of heat and cold from doing soldering caused me medical problems so I decided to move away from using solder and merely concentrate now on rivet and fold’.
His work is tedious and is all done by hand and is most times accompanied by a cut or two from the sharp edges of the metal being used in the slightest moment of inattention, during the process. “I take an average of about two hours to six hours to produce an item depending what it is and how large it is,” he disclosed. His outlets have included major retail stores in West and East Berbice at wholesale prices and of course the walk-ins at his home at # 5 Village.
Making his debut in the industry some 30 years ago, Mingo told Village Voice News that he is a self- taught. “I started off making shovels from discarded metals and when the demand for this died off I moved on to a variety of other metal products which I now sell,” he said. He disclosed that in the halcyon days of the trade thirty forty years ago making roof gutters for houses made from plain zinc was a usual order. “The gutters with zinc pipes and brackets were big work at one time,” he said.
They called the practitioners gutter smiths, he recalled. But as things go, the demand for metal gutters and pipes had gracefully bowed out to the advent of the plastic PVC pipes. Some items in hot and perennial demand today however include baking pans, rice strainers used in large scale cooking like at wedding houses, dust pans and parrot cages with sliding floors and watering cans and chicken feeding pans and even letter boxes even piggy banks.
Indeed, a few hours ago, while talking with the Village Voice New, Mingo was interrupted by a youthful male customer who shows up with a damaged metal piggy bank which he says he wants repaired as soon as possible. Chuckling to himself, Mingo disclosed he had made that savings bank a while ago; that it had apparently been in use but had been damaged perhaps by someone who wanted to access the savings in it.
Mingo’s prices for his tinsmith products are competitive: For example, a large rice strainer as per wedding house cooking costs $8,500; medium sized $7,500 and small sized r $6,500, long handled dust pans $1,000, metal ovens used in combination with a kerosene stove large sized $8,500; medium sized $6500; parrot cages large whole sale $5,500 each retail $6500 each. He sees no real competition to affect the viability of his trade at least not in the near future.
He says: “You know people buy plastic dust pans and within weeks it gets damaged. A customer told me the other day. Mr Mingo I ent got time with them plastic dust pans: two weeks after you buy them they done break up. Give me the metal pans any day, especially the long-handled ones.”
He says that he may soon move to a bigger location given the continuous demands for his products. Of his trade he said:” This tinsmith trade ent going nowhere in terms of dying out at least not now.”
He says that the only problem with the Tinsmith trade is that it might run out of practitioners. “At the moment as far as I know there are only two other persons in this trade in the West Coast of Berbice. I don’t know how many of them have children or grandchildren who might pick it up.”
Mingo is however optimistic that in his family the trade might survive after he bows out. “I have a grandson named Niron who showing an interest in it,” he said. He conceded:” But of course that could be just a temporary interest.” Mingo can be reached on Cell Phone # 682 4071 or his home at # 5 Village West Coast Berbice.