At the intersection of advertising, tobacciana, and numismatics, tobacco tags, also known as tobacco tin tags or tobacco can tags, are a collector’s delight.
Introduction of Tobacco Tags
First introduced in the United States in the mid-1800s, these small metal discs were used to label and seal tobacco tins from the mid-to-late 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time, tobacco products were sold loose in bags or barrels, and manufacturers were looking for ways to differentiate their products and create brand loyalty among consumers.
In addition to product differentiation, tags were also used to indicate the quality and freshness of the tobacco, as well as to prevent counterfeiting and tampering. Tags were initially made of tin, which was a cheap and readily available material at the time. Later, tags were made of other metals such as brass, copper, aluminum, with some even made of precious metals, such as gold or silver, and were stamped with a design or the brand name of the tobacco product.
One of the first companies to use tobacco premiums was P. Lorillard & Co., which began offering small, metal tags with its tobacco products in the 1850s. These tags featured the Lorillard company name and logo and were initially intended to help prevent counterfeiting by identifying genuine Lorillard tobacco products.
Rise in Popularity
As the popularity of tobacco grew, so did the use of tobacco tags. By the late 1800s, tobacco tags had become collectible items, with many manufacturers producing tags with unique shapes and designs that featured images of animals, flowers, and famous people, while others had advertising slogans, or patriotic messages. Others used tags to track the sales of their products, stamping them with unique serial numbers or codes.
As the popularity of tobacco tags grew, so did the practice of collecting them. People would trade tags with each other or display them in albums or frames. Manufacturers also began producing special albums and display cases for collectors to store and showcase their collections.
Some tags were designed to be used as coins. During the Civil War, when coins were scarce, some tobacco manufacturers produced tags with a denomination stamped on them, such as “5 cents” or “10 cents”, which could be used as a form of currency. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, tobacco tags were also used as a form of currency in some parts of the United States. In areas where cash was scarce, merchants would accept tobacco tags as payment for goods and services. The tags were valued based on their metal content, with brass and copper tags being worth more than tin or aluminum ones.
Tobacco Tag Decline
During World War I, the demand for metal increased, and the use of tin for tobacco tags became less common. Manufacturers began using other metals, such as aluminum and brass, for their tags. The popularity of tobacco tags continued to grow throughout the early 20th century, but their use declined with the introduction of paper packaging for tobacco products in the 1930s.
A Favorite Tobacciana Collectible
It’s difficult to determine which tobacco manufacturer produced the most tags, as the production of tobacco tags spanned many decades and there were numerous companies that produced them. However, some of the largest and most well-known tobacco manufacturers of the late 1800s and early 1900s, such as American Tobacco Company, Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company, and W. Duke & Sons, produced a significant number of tags.
The American Tobacco Company, which was founded in 1890, was one of the largest tobacco companies in the world at the time, and produced a wide range of tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco. The company produced many tobacco tags, with designs featuring famous athletes, historical figures, and other popular images.
Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company was another major tobacco manufacturer that produced a significant number of tags. The company was known for its popular Chesterfield brand of cigarettes, as well as other tobacco products such as cigars and chewing tobacco.
Duke & Sons was also a prominent tobacco manufacturer in the late 1800s and early 1900s and is credited with revolutionizing the tobacco industry using mass production techniques. The company produced many tobacco tags, with designs ranging from simple stamped designs to colorful graphics featuring famous actors and other celebrities.
Overall, there were many tobacco manufacturers that produced tobacco tags during the heyday of the industry, and each company’s tags had their own unique designs and characteristics. Today, collectors continue to search for rare and interesting tobacco tags from a variety of different manufacturers, adding to the rich history and legacy of this unique collectible.
An Unsavory History
Unfortunately, some tobacco tags from the late 19th and early 20th centuries were indeed racist, featuring offensive stereotypes and caricatures of African Americans, Native Americans, and other marginalized groups. These tags reflected the racist attitudes of the time and were part of a broader trend of racist imagery in advertising and popular culture.
For example, some tobacco tags featured caricatures of African Americans as lazy, foolish, or subservient, often with exaggerated features and derogatory captions. Other tags depicted Native Americans as savage or primitive, with headdresses and other stereotypical attire.
It’s important to note that these racist tobacco tags are now widely recognized as offensive and inappropriate. However, they serve as a reminder of the ways in which racist attitudes and stereotypes were embedded in American culture in the past.
Tobacco Tag Trivia
- Tobacco tags were used not only for loose tobacco but also for cigars, snuff, and pipe tobacco. Each type of product had its own distinct set of tags, with different designs and sizes.
- Tobacco tags were often used as giveaways or promotions, with manufacturers including them as free gifts inside their tobacco tins. Collectors would sometimes trade tags with each other or send away for specific tags to complete their collections.
- Some tags were designed to be worn as jewelry. Some manufacturers produced tags with a hole in the center, allowing them to be strung on a chain or ribbon and worn as a necklace or bracelet.
- The design of tobacco tags evolved over time, with early tags featuring simple stamped designs and later tags incorporating more intricate and colorful graphics.
- Some collectors specialize in specific types of tobacco tags, such as those produced by a particular manufacturer or those with animal or sports-themed designs.
- Some tags featured hidden messages or puzzles. To engage consumers and create brand loyalty, some tobacco manufacturers produced tags with hidden messages or puzzles that could be decoded or solved by collectors.
- Some tags were used to fund public projects. In the late 1800s, some tobacco manufacturers partnered with municipalities to produce tags that could be collected and redeemed for goods or services, with the proceeds going toward public projects such as parks or schools.
Glimpse of a Bygone Era
Today, tobacco tags are primarily collected as historical artifacts and reminders of a bygone era in the tobacco industry. They provide a fascinating glimpse into the history of tobacco production and marketing and are prized by collectors for their unique designs and historical significance.
Tobacco tags played an important role in the history of tobacco and are now a cherished part of tobacco memorabilia. Whether you are a collector or simply interested in the history of tobacco, learning about tobacco tags can provide a fascinating glimpse into the past.