The "Magnàn" tinsmith

Dino, the magnàn.

The magnàn or "parolaro", a traditional craftsman in Lanzada, was the tinsmith, a street trader, who mended pots, saucepans, copper tools and other kitchen accessories. Sometimes, he was also a hooper and seller of laveggi, the typical soapstone containers of the Valmalenco. It is difficult to establish the precise period in which this craft began. As Leandro Alberti stated, in the early 16th century, soapstone was used to make the pots in the Valmalenco and these were then sold throughout Italy. Some interesting seventeenth century sources testify how this craft, the art of the "parolaro", was already practised and the skills recognised even outside the valley.

Certainly between the 18th and 19th century, the work of the street tinsmith linked to the trade of the "laveggi" must have been flourishing as, in 1834, Lodovico Barlardini wrote about the inhabitants of the Valmalenco:

… they travel around the nearby provinces, working as tinsmiths (parolaro) and sell their stone cooking pots or vases.
Tinsmith at work.

This activity developed out of the need which forced the ancient inhabitants of Lanzada to emigrate during the winter in order to make up the poor income from agriculture. As in many mountain areas where resources are scarce and the winters long and very cold, the men in Lanzada were also forced to "invent" an alternative, supplementary trade to compensate for their poverty. Although the village had no activity connected with iron working, the tinsmith's trade was the natural result of the work linked to the extraction, working and sale of soapstone, and of the pots in particular. In fact, the latter needed an outer reinforcement before being sold and used in the kitchen. This was not made by the turner, but by the tradesman.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the work of the tinsmiths was considerable and was at its height in the period between the two wars. During the Second World War, they began to considerably decrease in number until they disappeared completely. Nowadays, this ancient trade is remembered only in the old mens' tales.