Tobacco advertising began as early as the late 1700s with advertisements in New York Newspapers. Ads were limited to local newspapers because tobacco products were made by hand and manufacturers could only meet small demands within their communities. Packaging such as tobacco tins and promotional items such as tobacco cards debuted in the 1870s.
Trademark tobacco signs began appearing in the 1880s and were anything from giant wall-sized ads to display signs that stood on store countertops. Mail Pouch Tobacco brand was hugely popular in the late 1800s. They developed an advertising method in which they partnered with rural families to use their roadside barns as billboards. Their ads appeared on the side of barns all over the country.
During the early 1900s tobacco signs in porcelain, tin and cardboard emerged. They emphasized the pleasures of smoking by describing the product’s beneficial effects. By the 1920s cigarette brands like Virginia Cigarettes advertised using slogans like “will not affect your throat.”
As cigarette smoking became an American pastime, smoking ad signs became more ornate with brightly colored images. Tobacco signage in the 1950s portrayed smoking as something of class and popularity. Everyone from athletes to celebrities, even doctors, endorsed them.
Today tobacco signs are particularly collectible if not for anything but to remind us how far we have come from the days when promoting it as “safe” and “good for you” was the norm. This is advertising nostalgia at its finest.