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Tobacciana exhibit slated for WADA Show Feb. 2-3

The topic of antique and vintage tobacco advertising and tobacciana interest is the subject of the Special Exhibition at this year's winter WADA show, Feb. 2-3.

By Debbie McArdle with Lee Bernard and Henry Hecker

WAUKESHA, Wis. — Anyone familiar with the semi-annual shows produced by the Wisconsin Antiques Dealers Association (WADA) are familiar with Lee Bernard Antiques, Jackson, Wisconsin. In recent years Lee, along with his wife Roxanne, have exhibited in Booth 3 at the WADA shows. But during this year's winter show Lee will also exhibit his tobacco advertising collection (tobacciana) in WADA’s Special Exhibit Booth. Joining Lee is long-time collector Henry Hecker who will also share unique examples of tobacco advertising from his own collection.

“The Marketing of Tobacco” is a free exhibit during the 44th Winter Wisconsin Antiques Dealers Association Show & Sale slated for Feb. 2-3 at the Waukesha County Expo Center in suburban Milwaukee. Come see the rarity, quality and variety of objects assembled by these top collectors of tobacciana. Henry Hecker and Lee Bernard will be on hand both days to answer questions and share information.

Tobacco Advertising Basics

Cigar box art

Various examples of cigar box art, often featuring images of attractive females to assist with promotion of product.

Native Americans introduced tobacco to the first European settlers in the early 1600's. Traders returned to Europe with tobacco plants from the Americas and, thus, the craving for a new commodity was born.

According to Mr. Hecker, “Paper and wood were undoubtedly used several hundred years ago to advertise tobacco. It is likely simple ads in newspapers and postings of broadsides began long before the mid-nineteenth century. However, the real explosion in graphic marketing occurred in the last quarter of the 1800's.

"With the advent of sophisticated lithography on both tin and card stock, manufacturers of tobacco products employed every conceivable image and narrative in advertising and packaging. Images of attractive women are most common in tobacciana, in order to gain the attention of a predominantly male customer base. Often the women were displayed in, what was considered at that time, a very risqué manner. But cigar box labels covered the gambit. Politicians and war heroes, sports figures and sportsmen, race horses, and actors and actresses graced the boxes. In addition, fanciful depictions from literature and mythology, and holidays (especially Christmas and New Years) made an appearance."

Emergence of Tobacciana Interest

Hecker continues, "Native Americans and African Americans were commonly depicted often in less-than-complimentary ways that are today considered politically incorrect, if not downright racially discriminating. Inducement to use the product was, therefore, by association with vividly-depicted references of sex appeal, heroism, outdoors life, sports talent, literary knowledge, etc., all designed to appeal to the male gender.

“Early on a segment of the public realized there was circumstantial evidence to health risks of smoking.The noted Hall of Fame baseball player, Honus Wagner, halted the sale of his tobacco baseball cards because of his concern about young people using the product. However, as the large tobacco companies emerged in the 20th century, more ruthless and deceptive marketing became common place. This included actually claiming health benefits of smoking and the denial of health damaging effects of tobacco."

Furthermore, he adds "Eventually this resulted in governmental regulation with warning labels and the ban on television ads for smoking materials. Recall the ‘Marlboro Man’ ads of the 1950's-60s. Tragically, several of these actors succumbed to lung cancer because of their loyalty to the products they pitched.”

Beginning of Storied Collections

Lee began collecting tobacciana a scant five years ago, illustrating there’s plenty of fine examples

Seasonal cigar box

Self packaging for the holiday season makes this cigar box ready made to give as a gift.

available. About his first acquisition he says, “I bought a colorful tobacco tin, Buckingham Cut Plug, with the intention of selling it; but I really liked it, so I kept it. That was the start of my collection of cigar & other tobacco related items. The great graphics on the old tins & boxes appeals to me & the hunt for items to add to my collection is fun & interesting.” Lee’s favorite piece is a colorful Possum cigar tin. “Who would want to smoke a cigar out of a tin with an opossum on it?” Lee asks!

Henry’s been collecting cigar boxes for about 25 years, focusing mostly on Wisconsin cigar makers but also boxes with great graphics. Henry says, “My first purchase was a box from the Henry Castenhoz saloon in Milwaukee, probably from his sample room. Castenhoz also bottled beer for a time; the reason I acquired the box as a brewery ‘go-with’. This was way before I purposely started collecting cigar boxes. Ironically I bought the box from Lee Bernard!” Henry’s favorite piece is a small Milwaukee Stock Yards Christmas box with Santa on it; he’s never seen another, the survival rate of such boxes is so low.

Words of Wisdom

Henry notes the field has gained popularity in the last 10 years and good boxes are commanding strong prices, becoming hard to find. Henry recommends, “Buy what you like and you can always upgrade later. Base your purchases, first and foremost, on good graphics and condition. Pick a theme, otherwise your collection can become unwieldy and consume too much space.” Lee adds, “Buy the best you can afford - it's better to buy one $20 tin than four $5 tins. Educate yourself on the subject by attending antiques shows, talking with knowledgeable dealers, and studying books on the subject so you get a feel for what is available.”

Henry and Lee will both be on hand to discuss antique tobacco advertising collecting. In addition, wander the show’s three large rooms featuring everything from vintage holiday items to jewelry, to antique cupboards offered by 55 of the Midwest’s top dealers from 9 states.

Planning to Attend

Also during the show, antiques (more than 100 years old) and vintage (50-99 years old) items will be the focus of a collection by the Friends of the Wisconsin Historical Society for the "30th Star Benefit Antiques Auction." Tax deductible receipts will be provided to all donors. The Wisconsin Antiques Dealers Association is proud to serve as the founding & continuing sponsor of this event since 2008 and has donated the booth for collection of objects for the fund-raising auction. 

The Wisconsin Antiques Dealers Association is a non-profit organization that produces two antiques shows annually. Admission of $7 funds college scholarships as well as grants to Wisconsin historic and heritage groups. A $1 discount coupon for admission to the Antiques Show is available with any ad or at: Show hours are Friday 10 a.m.- 8 p.m. and 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. on Saturday. 

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