Life of a tinsmith

Workshop of tinsmiths from Lanzada in St. Moritz from 1915-1920.

With the tools of their trade on their shoulders, many men left the village after the autumn and walked through the Valtellina to work as tinsmiths in the town squares. Very soon they pushed further, beyond the provincial borders as far as the valleys of Brescia and Bergamo. There is a great deal of evidence of the emigration of the talkative men from Lanzada in Valcamonica, Val Brembana, Val Seriana, Val di Scalve and in Val d’Ossola.

Large numbers took up permanent residence in the village they visited most often and continued to carry out their profession, sometimes investing in other economic sectors.

They only occasionally returned home for the religious festival of the Dead, Christmas and Easter and then finally well after Easter.

The daily life of the magnàn, with his wanderings from one place to another, stopping overnight in inns, resting in haybarns, his tales, the systems used for work to dose the metals, all represented an unusual world with its own code of honour and a profound feeling of solidarity. The travelling tinsmith, although he had a marginal trade, lived with the typical composure and dignity of the people from the mountains.

In this world of the magnàn, calmùn set down its roots. This was the slang used by the tinsmiths to communicate with each other without outsiders understanding them. At first it acted as a defence mechanism. However, it also created a sort of solidarity within the group.


  • Addio all’ultimo magnano di Lanzada, in “Voce della Comunità di Lanzada … cose di casa nostra”, No. 61 (1998)
  • Simon Pietro Picceni - Giuseppe Bergomi - Annibale Masa, Inventario dei toponimi valtellinesi e valchiavennaschi. 21 Territorio comunale di Lanzada, Società Storica Valtellinese, Villa di Tirano 1994
  • Salvadeo Mario – Simon Pietro Picceni, Parlàa Calmùn. Storia e gergo dei magnani di Lanzada, Sondrio 1998