Brief History of Tobacco Inserts and Premiums

lady_in_the_lake_silkIn the mid-1880′s, American tobacco companies began including printed cards in packages of their cigarette and other tobacco products as a means of advertisement. These colorfully decorated collectibles featured subjects such as historical figures, actresses and pretty girls, Native Americans, national flags, baseball players, boxers, and other sportsmen. Additionally, the companies often included coupons in the packages which could be exchanged for larger premiums or other items.

There was intense competition between the major manufacturers for several years, until James “Buck” Duke, the president of W. Duke, Sons & Co. convinced the other main players (Allen & Ginter, Kinney Tobacco Co., Wm. S. Kimball Co., and Goodwin & Co.) to merge as the American Tobacco Company (ATC) in 1890. The ATC quickly gobbled up many other smaller tobacco companies and soon had a monopoly on cigarette, chewing tobacco, and smoking tobacco sales. With this monopoly, advertising was less necessary so the use of insert cards and premium programs dropped off significantly in the early 1890′s.

american_tobacco_silks_dartmouth_baseballA second main era of American tobacco cards began around 1908 as the ATC resumed the practice of inserting cards into their products and began introducing tobacco silks, flannels, and leathers in 1911. A trust-busting action, initiated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, eventually led to the break-up of the ATC’s monopoly in December 1911 and the establishment of four main successor tobacco companies in the U.S.: a reduced ATC, Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co., P. Lorillard Co., and R.J. Reynolds. The first three companies continued to offer various inserts and each established a premium program in the 1912-1915 period. The advent of World War I, emergence of national brands such as R.J. Reynold’s Camel cigarettes and the ATC’s Lucky Strike cigarettes, and general waning of interest in the cards and silks led to the end of the second era.

Since that period, there have been a number of American tobacco card issues but nothing to the level seen before. There hasn’t been an American tobacco silk, flannel, or leather issue produced since around 1916.