In a corner of my Star Trek room sits a small metal trash can. It often goes unnoticed by visitors, and that’s too bad. It’s more than 40 years old, it’s in really good condition, and it’s a great example of Star Trek in the ’70s, when fans would buy almost anything that sported those magic words. It is also cool that a small US novelty company lavished such quality artwork and attention to detail on a tin receptacle destined for apple cores and used tissues.
The can was manufactured by J. Chein & Co. and, sadly, by the time it rolled off the production line in Burlington, New Jersey, that company’s best days were already years behind it. Its doors opened in 1903 and it stayed in business for more than 75 years. The first products made by founder Julius Chein were tin toys dropped into boxes of Cracker Jacks and the company soon became known as a source of wind-up Ferris wheels and spinning tops, mostly sold in five and dimes. Chein died in a horse-riding accident in 1926 and his widow asked her brother, Samuel Hoffman, to take over. The company switched to manufacturing parts for airplanes and weapons during World War II and then got back to tin toys, but the slow decline of F.W. Woolworth Company, its main retail client, and the rising popularity of plastic eventually forced it out of that business.
The company moved into lithographed housewares such as wastebaskets and canisters, produced under the Cheinco brand. And that’s where my trash can comes in. It’s dated 1977, stands 33 cm/13 inches tall, sports colourful and reasonably accurate artwork, and even offers up interesting facts about the ship and its crew.
The Enterprise stats are seemingly drawn from the Star Fleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph, published in 1975. The measurements — length of 288.6 meters and breadth of 127.1 meters — are essentially identical, albeit expressed in feet by Chein. However, the can’s “190,000 tons” is not quite the same as the manual’s measurement of “Deadweight tonnage-metric 190,000.”
One odd bit: Cheinco stated Christine Chapel’s rank as Lieutenant. There was no rank braid on Chapel’s uniform and I believe — and correct me if I am wrong — that her rank is never stated on screen during TOS, although she is promoted to Lieutenant in the animated episode Mudd’s Passion.
Those details, plus the mostly accurate artwork, means either someone at Cheinco knew Star Trek or Paramount was consulted to get the details right.
The company made many licensed trash cans for properties including Peanuts, GI Joe, The Wizard of Oz, and Disney, and also produced a Star Trek: The Motion Picture can, which I do not own.
I got my Cheinco at a Toronto Trek convention many years ago, and I have never seen another in person. I don’t remember how much I paid, but I do recall debating the purchase, as I had very little money with me. I am glad I bought it. It is quirky and rare and in far better shape than ones I have seen in online auctions. A TMP can sold at VintageToys.com in 2013 for US$30; I wish I had bought it.