by Maxine Carter-Lome, Publisher
I am old enough to remember cigarette dispensing machines in almost all public places, when a pack of cigarettes was only 45 cents, that collectible cards came in cigarette packs, when cigarette holders-the longer and fancier the better-were in vogue, and that my Grandmother used to decorate her formal dining room table with a sterling silver cigarette set that included an ashtray, holder for the cigarettes, and a case to hold the matchbox. I remember when the men at dinner parties excused themselves after the meal to enjoy a fine cigar with their after-dinner drinks, and when buying someone a decorative ashtray or lighter was a thoughtful and appropriate hostess gift.
Like many of my generation, I grew up believing that smoking was cool, fashionable, and sophisticated. For affirmation all I had to do was look at the billboards I passed in the car every day and the images that jumped out at me from the TV and the pages of almost any magazine I picked up. I was the generation that tobacco companies subliminally targeted to ensure their product and brand would continue to be popular and appealing in the decades to come, even as the negative health effects of nicotine became more widely known and publicized, and new government regulations restricted where and how cigarettes and related tobacco products could be sold and advertised. In my lifetime I have seen smoking go from prevalent, fashionable, and socially-appropriate to being vilified, regulated, highly taxed and restricted. What remains, however, is a rich trove of smokin’ collectibles, from tobacco tins, smoking jackets, snuff boxes and pipes to cigarette holders, ashtrays, lighters, cigar boxes, and the tobacco products themselves. As a collection, any one of these and so many other objects and items that fall under the category now being referred to as Tobacciana (collectibles or antiques related to all types of tobacco products including both cigars and cigarettes) reflect a history and culture of smoking in our country that pre-dates the arrival of Christopher Columbus by thousands of years.
In this issue we will be exploring the Early History of Cigarettes in America, the collectability of matchbook covers, Native American Red Stone Pipes, Vintage Ashtrays, Collectible Tobacco Antiques with Dr. Lori , and Cigar Lighters & Tip Cutters with Mike Eckles.
You don’t have to be a smoker or collector to be an appreciator of tobacco art and cigarette advertising. Tobacco companies have long used art to brand and sell cigarettes and tobacco products. Tobacco advertising in America first appeared in 1789 when the Lorillard brothers advertised their snuff and tobacco products in a local New York daily paper, but it wasn’t until the 1840s that brand names slowly began to appear on labels. The first real brand name to become known on a bigger, more national scale was “Bull Durham,” which emerged in 1868 with the advertising placing the emphasis on how easy it was “to roll your own.”
The tobacco companies used trade cards (similar to business cards), tin tags, and posters to advertise their products. With the development of color lithography in the late 1870s, tobacco companies could now incorporate a variety of attractive colorful images into their advertising, trademarks, and packaging to create consumer attention and brand distinction. One of the earliest and most successful adaptations of this new technology was turning the cards used to stiffen the packaging of pre-rolled cigarettes into collectible “trade cards” that advertised the cigarette brand, and later built brand loyalty through sets of cards that included images of athletes, “Surf Beauties,” actresses, birds, etc., and ads for the brand featuring endorsements by doctors, celebrities, politicians, athletes, and even Santa.
The largest cigarette card collection on record is that of Edward Wharton-Tigar, a decorated World War II spy, saboteur, and prominent mining executive. Recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for amassing over two million cigarette cards, Wharton-Tigar bequeathed his collection to the British Museum upon his death in 1995. When asked what others thought of his collecting he said the following:
“If to collect cigarette cards is a sign of eccentricity, how then will posterity judge one who amassed the biggest collection in the world? Frankly, I care not.” I think he speaks on behalf of most collectors I know.