The practice of inserting advertising in tobacco products and packaging began about 1870 and was common throughout the late 19th Century and the first decades of the 20th Century. The inserts or premiums were varied, some more functional than others, but altogether interesting, and therefore they became collectible items to thousands of men, women and children. Tin tobacco tags, cigarette cards, cigar ribbons, cigarette silks, and tobacco flannels, are a small portion of the collectibles classified as Tobacciana. These items are not as well known nor collected, as other tobacco related items like cigar boxes or tins, cigarette cases and lighters.
However, though they may not be the most popular of collectibles, tobacco inserts or premiums were popular in their time, and continue to be collectibles. A great deal of their charm comes from the fact that they were free, packed in or on cigarette and tobacco products.
The textile tobacco insert, often cataloged as a tobacco card novelty, is truly a novelty and these items may be of interest to the student of quilt history.
Identifying these items as tobacco inserts or premiums is not always easy, and it is often difficult to know exactly how the user obtained the textile.
The tobacco insert is described as the item that was actually inserted into the tobacco packaging, sometimes packed in with the tobacco product and often enclosed in an envelope. At other times they were attached to the outside of the package, as when they were attached to tins of loose tobacco.
The tobacco premium was given away by the tobacco company, in exchange for coupons. The paper coupons were inserted in some tobacco products packaging. The coupons were printed by tobacco companies and were honored as having value when they were exchanged for premiums offered in catalogs that were distributed by the tobacco companies. Coupons were gathered and saved until the consumer had enough to send for an item in the tobacco companies’ catalog. Everything from furniture, clothing, sporting goods and silk textiles could be redeemed with these coupons.
Textiles tobacco inserts, including silks, flannels, rugs or carpets, and cigar ribbons, are unique and fascinating because they were used to make quilts and other quilt like textile objects, demonstrating how the quilt maker used imagination and available materials, to create interesting and beautiful items to grace her home.
Following is a brief synopsis of the history of the tobacco insert, premium or novelty as it relates to the tobacco textile insert or premium. The article will later focus on the many tobacco related textiles made from them, and how they were used in quilts and other textile items for the home.
Another early tobacco insert advertisement was the printed cigarette card, they were another important form of advertisement for the tobacco companies. Given away in cigarette packaging from the 1870’s through the 1930’s they fell out of production during WWII due to the shortage of paper during the war. While a few cigarette companies issued cards post WWII (mostly in Europe), the practice was not widespread and most cards originate from before the War here in the US.
The cards were inserted into packages of cigarettes, and were a long lasting advertisement for the cigarette manufacture. Consumers gathered and saved these cards as collectibles, trading with friends for more desirable cards or trading to complete a series set. Cigarette cards are usually about 1 ½ x 2 ½ inches tall, with a printed design on one side of the card and an advertisement for the company on the reverse. Many are polychrome prints and are colorful and attractive.
The subjects of the cards vary widely with themes like flowers, animals, Hollywood actors and actresses, European Royalty, American Indians, sports stars of the day, and military themes. Many of the tobacco cards were distributed in series format, encouraging the collector to gather all of the cards from a series, which of course meant more sales for the tobacco company. Collector books or albums were available for purchase with illustrations of the card series, while other albums were meant to hold the series cards, with collectors striving to collect all of the cards in the series to fill the appropriate spaces in the albums.
Today cigarette cards may be the most popular of the tobacco insert collectibles, having come in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of themes and series, giving the collector any number of subjects to collect. Though they are no longer distributed, they continue to be collected and one may even purchase new reproductions for some of the hard to find older cards.
Textile Tobacco Inserts and Premiums
It was between 1905 and 1910 that tobacco companies here in America, began inserting textile items into their cigarette and tobacco products. Most books written on the subject say the fad for these textiles was between 1910 and 1916. They also agree that at the beginning of WWI the practice of inserting textiles into cigarette or other tobacco packaging, here in the United States, was more or less abandoned.
In European countries the practice may have begun somewhat earlier and extended later into the 1920’s - 1940's, so it is possible to find some items from this later period. Tobacciana of all types have been and are still popular collectibles, with many items sold worldwide at auctions, and in recent years through online sites.
Some suggest that the tobacco companies stopped the distribution of these textiles because of the large expense incurred, reportedly costing up to $300,000 a year for one large company. Others suggest that the interest of collectors waned after a decade of collecting the inserts. Whatever the reason, tobacco companies stopped issuing the textile inserts and chose to advertise in other ways. Therefore there is a relatively short window of availability for the tobacco inserts and premiums, and that makes it easier for the quilt historian to date these unusual textile items.
These many years later it may seem odd that textiles like silks and flannels would be used as tobacco product inserts or premiums. But this was all happening at a time when there was much competition between the tobacco companies and advertising was important to entice new customers, and it was a good way to build brand loyalty.
It is thought that the practice of inserting textiles into the tobacco products may have been a direct marketing strategy to entice women into smoking cigarettes, although it wasn’t until several years later that tobacco companies openly seduced women into trying their cigarettes.
It is true that women were encouraged to gather up these small textiles from spouses or friends who used tobacco products and sew them into useful and beautiful items. These tobacco related textiles were varied and colorful, and women were encouraged through literature distributed by the tobacco companies, to use them to make things for the home, including quilts, throws, pillows, table covers, purses and even curtains for windows and doors.
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