Before Cigarette Warning Labels

Before cigarette warning labels, tobacco products were sold loose, in plugs or in bags sealed with a product name or brand mark printed on a tiny tin tag or clasp. They’re the forgotten regional brands for America’s most popular mass commodity.

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Here’s a little history:

In 1860s tin tags began as an attempt to foil counterfeiting and grew into a popular design accessory. After the Civil War demand for Southern tobacco soared greater than any other antebellum product. Chewing and smoking tobacco was shipped in wooden crates called caddies, branded or labeled with the maker’s name. Once the crates were opened, all tobacco was the same.

In 1876, a number of tobacco companies solved the problem of “branding” their slabs and twists of tobacco by pounding one or more round wooden plugs into each piece before it left the factory: “To help enable the dealer to secure every possible advantage, we have placed the Wooden Tags or Trademark at intervals throughout the entire length of the plug, which permits the retailer to cut the lump into small pieces to suit his customer, each piece holding its identity as though perfect plug in itself,” stated an ad for one such brand.

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Wooden tags gave way to tin versions. P. Lorillard was the first to implant them in the slab or twists of tobacco — ouch. Then Ben Finzer Tobacco Company in Louisville had the bright idea to attach them to the outside. Estimates report more than 12,000 tobacco tag designs were produced, and as you can see from my small sampling, what variety in shape, size, color and graphics there was too.

 

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