Tom the Tinner

A Cornish folk tale of a man faced with the choice between wisdom or gold

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I first met this tale posted on Storytell as “The Tinner, the Jew, the Dog and the Cake” and later found it as “The Tale of Ivan” in Joseph Jacobs’ Celtic Tales. But UK storyteller Mike Facherty kindly pointed me to two other versions: one by Mike O’Connor in Cornish Folk Tales, and a recording made by David Heathfield.
Both generous storytellers, their responses are below:

David Heathfield tells me:
I used to tell it with the old husband young wife episode but found it old fashioned and clunky so I substituted in the respect old age advice and episode to make it flow better for me and listeners. That episode comes from similar Middle East tales. I suspect the story came to Cornwall from Turkey during the very early tinning export days.

Mike generously mailed the following:
The tale of the three advices is widely known and has its own type number: 910B.
There is no particular reason why it should have come from Turkey, Cornwall has no historic links with Turkey. Though some Cornish tales do mention the Holy Land.
The legend is that the Phoenicians came trading for tin around 600 BC, and were followed by the Romans. Cornish tin streaming and shallow scrape extraction were common in medieval Europe, though tin was very much a Cornish speciality.

The tale is first recorded in Cornwall in around 1715, by Nicholas Boson of Newlyn.
My version comes from William Bottrell, Hearthside tales, second series.

Checking with Ashliman [Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts], the fount of all knowledge: I find David’s version is based on T. Crofton Croker, “The Three Advices: An Irish Moral Tale,” Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, vol. 4, no. 173 (May 23, 1835), pp. 131-32

A similar version is found in Cuthbert Bede [pseudonym for Edward Bradley], The White Wife: With Other Stories, Supernatural, Romantic, and Legendary (London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, 1856), pp. 141-46.

The three points of wisdom, tri poynt skians, are usually:

  • Never forsake the old road for the new
  • Never to lodge in a house where an old man was married to a young woman. 
  • Remember that honesty is the best policy.

I told my version of the tale for the first time in September 2021 – my first theatre performance after 18 months of Covid restricting all storytelling to the studio.
A week later, I made this recording.

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