Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tobacco Tags

Check out these REALLY old babies - aren't they cool?  This is part of my durable ephemera collection, and one of those items that I can't believe actually still exists.

Okay, first - a little history!  I don't know about you but up until two or three years ago I couldn't have told you what a tobacco tag was, let alone what it was used for (before tobacco was sold like it is today, it came in huge slabs or "twists", and the tags were needed to keep the "twist" from unraveling). Because of their size and their age, they TOTALLY appealed to me.  Mini and old, just the way I like 'em!  :D

According to Tony Hyman at the National Cigar History Museum, tobacco tags were one of the first tobacco collectibles, starting as early as the 1880s (there is a MARVELOUS collection of tags on this page, but I don't like to use other people's photos on my blog unless I have permission.  So hop on over to see what I mean!).

What's so cool about these tags is that they were rendered obsolete so early - in the 1920s, when tobacco started being wrapped in cellophane.  So basically, my collection of tags is AT LEAST 90 years old, and possibly older.  And yes, you can come across them pretty cheaply!

When you look at the tags, you can definitely see how old they are by the racial, ahem, "ignorance".  I don't collect African-American items normally, but this Black Maria tag (shown above) came in a lot.  I hesitated putting it in this photo but then I thought maybe it would be better if I did, just to show how different the world was a century ago.  I'd love to think that this sort of prejudice has been completely eradicated, but I'm not that naive.  I certainly won't be using it in my art, unless I'm making a political statement (and as you've probably figured out already, that's really not my style).

But I have used these tags in my art!  I love them!  Much like my beloved European food stick pins, they are the PERFECT size to use in collages, especially ATCs!  :D


  1. Hey, I think I recognize some of those! Did I give you the Penn's Red J? Tobacco tags are a lot more common in the antiques stores in VA & NC (obviously)

  2. My father (b. 1923, d. 1997) told me that as a kid they used to play games with tobacco tags. One game he called "puffin tobacco tags" and I took it to be sort of blowing them in or out of a circle, kind of like playing marbles. But he never really explained. Has anyone else ever heard of this?