Elegant and Ornate Antique Ceiling Tiles

by C. Dianne Zweig

Beautiful, ornate, antique tin ceiling tiles are very popular today and are being used as decorative accessories, wall décor, supports for artwork and of course, for home remodeling projects. These elegant and charming "collectibles" are back in vogue and continue to attract many buyers.

Ceiling tins can be found in original form or as newly manufactured products made to mimic the charm and elegance of the older looks. There are several groups of people who are eager to find tiles in their original form: collectors, homeowners and artists/crafters.

First, let us begin with a little background about tin ceiling tiles. Pressed or embossed tin ceilings were very popular during the Victorian Era as an affordable substitute for the plaster-designed ceilings found in wealthy European homes. Thin metal sheets of tin, copper or stainless steel were stamped with intricate patterns and often painted white to resemble the more expensively-produced, hand-carved or molded plaster ceilings. Companies in Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania mass produced thin metal plate during the late 1800s and created numerous patterns from which buyers could choose.

During the WW II Era, tin ceiling tiles went out of favor as metals were conserved for the war effort, and other types of ceilings were promoted. By the 1950s and 1960s, acoustic drop ceiling tiles and dry wall dominated the marketplace and could be found in homes, hotels and buildings.

Because original tin ceiling tiles have such pretty designs and craftsmanship, many people like to collect these lovely antique pieces. Collectors enjoy finding tiles of different sizes, as well as seeking out tiles with unique patterns, shapes, colors and symbols.

On eBay, these tiles are categorized under the heading "Architectural & Garden" in the antique category. Searching the words antique ceiling tins will bring you into the section where you will find early tin ceiling tiles. Using the phrase vintage ceiling tile generally calls up a list of "vintage style" or "reproduced" tiles. Prices vary according to the size, quantity and uniqueness of design. For collectible older tiles, prices vary according to rarity, availability, intricacy of pattern and whether a particular tile has been reproduced You can expect to find small ordinary tiles for as little as $5 and fancier larger tiles or groups of tiles from $25 and up.

With so many reproduced tiles available it may get a little tricky to tell the vintage pieces from the newer models. Older ceiling tin is heavier than the newer version and has surfaces showing lots of rust, dents, chippy paint, rough scaly edges and sharp nail holes.

Although reproductions are made to look like the real thing, you will notice that the new items are lighter and smoother and are simply too perfect. Also worth mentioning is that sometimes old tiles appear new when they are not. This can happen when a vintage piece is cleaned and refinished or an original tile is framed with an old door or window trim.

Unlike older tiles which rust, newer tiles are often made with a special powder finish which is rust-proof, allowing for indoor and outdoor use. But even "cleaned up" older tiles look and feel differently than new ones. Collectors who handle lots of these detailed works of art learn to distinguish the differences.

While true collectors mix and match their collections with different examples of tiles, homeowners who may want to remodel a kitchen ceiling or frame a fireplace need to find multiple tiles. They generally look toward new versions of these handsome decorative items.

Reproduced tiles are made from a variety of materials such as tin, vinyl, wood and plastics, and they come in numerous colors and finishes. Popular colors for store-bought tin tiles are copper, bronze, gold, black, silver, rust, burgundy, mocha and whites or unpainted for custom colors. The American Tin Ceiling Company (www.americantinceilings.com), a large provider of reproduced ceiling tiles, carries 70 colors and 33 patterns of ceiling tiles to choose from. Sales manager Ken Lindfors has had great success with a newer product called Snap-lock ceiling tiles. These tiles can be screwed into any ceiling (drop, popcorn, etc.). You can order sample tiles to evaluate before you begin a project.

While the Snap-lock variety of ceiling tile is very popular, there are other innovative applications of ceiling tiles on the market today. For example, you can now purchase tiles that come in rolls like wallpaper. Architectural Inspirations (Norwall Group, Inc., www.norwall.net) makes a paintable vinyl, pre-pasted wallpaper ceiling tile. Other companies sell peel-and-stick types of ceiling tiles.

Besides using tiles for the ceiling, homeowners often add tile as a kitchen backsplash or a medallion for hanging fixtures. Some creative folks even use ceiling tiles as faux headboards. Another group of individuals who look for vintage tiles is artists and crafters. These talented folks make handsome objets d'art out of these architectural salvaged masterpieces.

Ruth Welter of www.artfulcreations.biz likes to paint on vintage ceiling tiles. She looks for tins that are more than 100 years old, in good shape and requiring minimal prep work. Ruth generally passes up tiles that have holes or dents, but she is interested in unusual designs or shapes which inspire her to use the background as part of her subject matter and design work.

Rhonda Juniper and her husband Jack E. Ray (www.antiquecottagerose.com) have had great success selling frames made out of old tiles and inserting a canvas with Rhonda's florals and other images.

While many current artists are discovering a variety of ways to use old ceiling tins and other salvage materials, the Pennsylvania Dutch have crafted objects from tin for a very long time. For example, they are noted for creating barn stars out of old tin roof material. Many stores specializing in country gifts sell reproduction stars.

Interest in architectural salvage continues to grow as collectors, homeowners and artists are falling in love with old world craftsmanship. Using reclaimed ceiling tin as decorative accessories in today's homes is an excellent way to blend older traditions with modern day lifestyles.


C. Dianne Zweig (www.cdiannezweig.com) is the author of the newly-released book Hot Cottage Collectibles for Vintage Style Homes and also Hot Kitchen and Home Collectibles of the 30s, 40s, 50s. Zweig's retro and cottage collections can be found at her shop Kitsch-n-Stuff at The Collinsville Antiques Company of New Harford, Ct., a 22,000-square foot antique emporium. 

Vintage 24 x 24 inch ceiling tin, grill pattern.

6-inch pattern ceiling tin. (Photos this page, courtesy eBay seller Vinmondi, eBay store Easy Street Artifacts.)

"Tea & Roses Vintage Gothic Ceiling Tin" by Ruth Welter, 13-3/4 x 9-1/2 inches.

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