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Blog TC318: Altoids Tins

Each item removed from the Time Capsules tells two stories. What the object was originally designed for (the creator’s intention) and what the object came to be, through the eyes of Andy Warhol. As TC Project Cataloguers, it is our job to organize the disorganized. So when we open a Time Capsules box and see stacks of paper, objects, and clothing, we immediately want to categorize and organize these items. We create categories for everything. That is why we label drink umbrellas as “barware” or blank stationery as “ephemera.” However, this only tells half the story–how those items relate to us and not how they relate to Warhol.  Slowly, bits of new information come to light that color our perception of the seemingly mundane.

Candy box (“Altoids”) from Time Capsule 318 Manufactured by Smith Kendon Ltd., U.K.
painted tin and waxed paper
3/4 x 3 3/4 x 2 3/8 in. (1.9 x 9.5 x 6 cm.)
The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

The tins of Altoids, which continually pop up in the Time Capsules, seem to suggest either a love for peppermint candies or a fear of halitosis. But it was a quote by Richard DuPont in New York Magazine that provided a glimpse into the way Warhol perceived the tin’s functionality:  “ [Andy] always had an Altoids tin full of Quaaludes that people had given him hoping to hang out with him, so he would give them to us too.” In the 1970’s, the use of Quaaludes as a recreational drug was widespread and Warhol’s crowd was no exception. According to Warhol in The Andy Warhol Diaries, “Everybody hands me Quaaludes and I always accept them now because they’re so expensive and I can sell them.”

Maybe the Altoids tin was never more than an Altoids tin, but once the suggestion of something more nefarious is made, it’s hard to see these tins as containers of anything else. Like a riddle, once the secret has been revealed, it’s nearly impossible to view it for the first time again. Seeing how Warhol interpreted the objects in the Time Capsules not only gives us insight into the collection as a whole but also offers a glimpse into the mind of the man behind them. And isn’t that what separated Warhol from the rest of us? Reimagining what we all take for granted.