In my constant search for antiques and collectibles I have seen a few cigarette silks, but quite honestly, had never found any with a lot of character. That is until last month. While in Florida, we hit an estate sale and the lady had a box full of these little pieces.
The one on top was a flag, and entitled “England – Man of War Flag.”
Another flag followed, this one from Tasmania, and then another “crest” from Peru. I wondered if that would be it, a lot of little flags, But a real surprise was the next one down! It was from the University of Wisconsin, our home state, but found in Florida. Further down was a lovely flower silk, a “wild rose” and this one had the name of “Zina cigarettes”, a brand I am not familiar with.
My all time favorite silk was the one showing a gorgeous lady in a wide-brimmed hat and rather low-cut gown. Elegance personified! Her name was extremely difficult to read so off to an Internet site to see what I could find. After trying numerous names, up popped the one I sought “Lina Abarbanell.” It turns out she was born in 1879 in Berlin, Germany. Her father was a leading theatre conductor and she began her singing debut when she was only 7 years old. She had quite a lengthy career and I found her story fascinating. She sang in numerous operas to rave reviews but when her husbanded died (in 1934), she stopped singing but became a producer, and casting director. Lina continued working in the theatre until the day she died, January 6, 1963. All of this delightful history because of a small piece of cloth!
I continued through the box and found one from Sovereign Cigarettes showing an Indian Chief named Black Eye. Near the bottom were two from Mogul Cigarettes – one featuring George Washington, the other John Adams.
These little advertising pieces were found in packs of cigarettes starting in the Victorian period. Not that women smoked, that was almost unheard of. But they would collect these premiums and sew them into household items, perhaps quilts or table linens. They would sit by their man’s side while he smoked. Some of the companies offered larger sizes of the silks if you sent away for them. This promotional idea worked very well indeed. In the 1920s when women started smoking, it was even more successful.
While some tobacciana items are frowned on today, these continue to attract buyers. The most expensive would be the sports figures, Native American Indians and stars of the theatre. Those can sell for $15 or more, while common flags and flowers are considerably less.