Seriously: Why Does Everyone's Mum Use That Same Cookie Tin for Sewing Stuff?
Jacklynne with her tin; Jacklynne's tin
It's in the cupboard in the other room. You're not exactly sure how it got there, but you remember the first time you saw it. With glee, your fat little fingers prised open the lid before you were met with a pang of bitter disappointment.
"I never learnt," says 32-year-old Amrita Chowdhury. "I'd spot a cookie tin on a shelf and get all excited. But they never, ever had cookies in them… the tins always had either sewing needles, thread and safety pins – or medicine."
Chowdhury is talking about the Royal Dansk biscuit tin, first released in 1966. Emblazoned with an image of five sugary butter cookies, the Danish tin is instantly recognisable all around the world, responsible for millions of memories just like Amrita's.
"I remember seeing them both at my cousins' place and at home. My cousins' one would always have biscuits in it, mine was kept for other purposes," says Anna Bernardi, a 29-year-old from Italy. Risha-Leigh Dummett, a 22-year-old from Toronto, says she was constantly "tricked" by the tin. "It always inevitably ended up being sewing supplies in it!" From the Philippines, Jacklynne Lambino, also 22, has similar memories. "As a child, I would see a lot of those tins at home… its main purpose is to really be a sewing kit." This experience is so universal, it has become the subject of many, many memes.
According to Lambino, Royal Dansk biscuits weren't available in the Philippines, so she assumes the tin was a gift from friends or family abroad. Chowdhury (who lived in India as a child) similarly presumed the tin was gifted by family in England. "Until, one day I took my schoolwork to a classmate's house," she says. "And I noticed a Danish cookie tin." Her friend didn't have relatives aboard and Chowdhury never once saw a Royal Dansk tin in any Indian grocery stores – even though she was always "on the lookout".
Is this a wildly pointless massive global conspiracy? Are there mind-control drugs in the butter cookies? Just how did one biscuit tin end up in everyone's house? And why does nearly everyone's mum use it to store sewing supplies?
"We began packaging the cookies in the blue tins to help ensure the quality and freshness of each cookie as shipping expanded around the world," says Jette Rasmussen, a Royal Dansk brand manager for the food company Kelsen. Kelsen have offices in the US, China, South Africa and Denmark, which explains how the cookies spread across the globe.
"Since the tins are designed to be sturdy, we are pleased to know people are reusing [them] to hold a variety of things, including sewing supplies," says Rasmussen. "We are honoured by the fact that generations of families have shared special moments together while enjoying the butter cookies we make – perhaps the tins protect special memories as well as biscuits."
Good marketing like this might explain how the tin went global, but why did everyone's mum look at it and think, 'Yup, the perfect home for my thimbles'? Our personal stories might answer the question. In 2015, a Buzzfeed community user wrote an article about the tin, citing her mother, who told her biscuit tins weren't initially very common and that, during wartime, citizens were encouraged to not throw useful items away, meaning she reused the tin for sewing storage.
Varvara Bondarenko, a 23-year-old from Russia, explains that her family bought Royal Dansk biscuits as gifts for the New Year. "These cookies were quite expensive, so we rarely bought them casually," she says. "My grandma was happy about her present, even though she didn't actually like cookies."
The tin, then, always had value outside of the biscuits. "The use of biscuit tins for buttons and sewing [stuff] goes back at least pre-World War II," explains Rachel Laudan, a food historian and author of Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History. "Tinplate containers came in in the 18th century for tea, sugar, etc., because they were waterproof and rat-proof and creepy crawly-proof… Giving people biscuits in a tin was a double gift.
"Now we would go and buy a sewing box – but we are super wealthy."
It might be a symptom of global capitalism that we no longer relate to keeping one thing to use as another, but nearly everyone I speak to wants their own Royal Dansk tin now they've moved out of their family home.
"When I was living on my own for a semester, I wished I had a tin like that because everything kept disappearing. And I guess it's pretty scary when a needle disappears," says Bondarenko. "It's like having a plastic bag with plastic bags in it. Makes you an adult."
There is, then, a simple explanation for this global, meme-able tin. In the grand scheme of life it isn't remotely important, but everyone I speak to around the world is excited to find out we have this one thing in common. "I'm always happy to learn one new thing about how similar we actually are," says Bondarenko. "While many people seem to care only about differences, why not refocus on some ordinary and fun similarities, like this one."