Skip to page content
Home / Explore » Our stories » Objects & memorabilia » Ciggies And Smokes

Ciggies And Smokes

From tobacco tins to cigarette boxes, the shelves in storage bay one are awash with smoking paraphernalia of every kind.

Lighters, match boxes, ciggy holders, ash trays, pipes, collectible cards – the list goes on, and pays testament to the uber cool status puffing away on a small smoking object once had.

The shelves really are a treasure trove, with bright wee tins carefully laid out, still gallantly trying to sell their wares. “No bite, no cough”. “Yankee Doodle – Flake Cut Tobacco”. “The aristocrat of cigarettes”. But one of the tins bold declaration takes the cake – from “Rolliown Cigarette Tobacco” comes this gem; “Does not affect Heart or Throat. It’s toasted”.

The ‘Chelsea’ cigarette is another standout. The round tin was brought for the collection in 1990 from the Curio Shop. It’s dented and scratched, and has no doubt seen better days, but speaks volumes for a time where ciggy’s were considered a necessity for the boys at war. In red letters the tin announces “Emergency Pack for Overseas Forces”. It goes on to say “This vacuum container has been used for cigarettes to make sure your cigarettes arrive in good condition”. The packs of 75 were a unique product of WWII, when US forces stationed in the Pacific complained that the heat and humidity of the Islands made their smokes soggy. Vacuum cans are used to keep perishable items fresh in the tropics, as metal to make tins was in short supply. The US Army's Office of the Quartermaster General bought eight million unused cans originally designed to hold Planter's Peanuts, then asked all cigarette manufacturers for their help. There was a problem, though, as the length of each cigarette needed to be shortened 2 mm to fit in the cans. Over two million cans were filled with Chelsea Cigarettes, and all were shipped to the Pacific between 1943-45.

Cigarette cards are another fantastic addition to the collection. The tiny words on the tiny cards sit proudly in a small box on the shelf. The subjects are as varied as you could possibly imagine. Yes, there’s sets of dogs and cars as you would expect, but many more sets seem a complete oddity. Figures of Speech, National Fitness (a different exercise on every card), A Sporting Holiday in New Zealand, and even, Children of All Nations. This pack has little Afghan and Yugoslav children with a description of their huts and villages.

Cigarette Cards, or stiffeners as they were known, were first printed around 1880, however the 1930s are considered the real hey-day of collecting and trading. An increase in technology in this period meant that aircraft, cars and ships were all popular sets, as well as film stars. All of these themes are represented in the Museum’s collection - in amongst Diving and Lifesaving, Boy Scouts, and even Household Hints! Restrictions during WWII meant that cards were not issued, as the average run for a set of cards could be 40 tonnes of paper, and cigarette packets themselves had the inside side panel removed to save paper. Following the war, the cards failed to attract the same attention they had enjoyed previously, and despite efforts through to the 1950s, the trend simply tapered off.

The tins and packs and paper have no warning signs, no horrifying pictures – just snazzy slogans and cartoons of people happily puffing away. Cork tipped and ivory tipped, it all seems very glam – and even I am tempted to feel the slippery sheen of the thin black holder between my fingers. But then I open a pristine packet of Medium Capstan Navy Cut Cigarettes, take a whiff of the cigarettes still bristling with tobacco inside, and wonder how anything smelling so bad, could ever be good.