October 14, 2011

Thank You For Smoking

Say what you will about smoking (personally not for me), but typographically-speaking, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about my absolute love of packaging when it comes to all-things-smoking. What? You don't know what I'm talking about? I know people tend to simply liken cigarette rolling papers to potheads, but there is a rich history in regards to design, packaging and frankly—fantastic marketing. Perhaps its the addictive qualities of cigarettes themselves that keeps one coming back, but why do we choose the brands we do? For me, it would be simple. I would choose the prettiest package and go from there. And I know what some of you may be thinking— that's why it's wrong that the companies produce such pretty packaging. But for me, the lure is also a hallmark (no pun intended) of great design and marketing. I myself wouldn't blame the tobacco companies for this. Great Art simply cannot go along without Politics, right?
All of that aside, I'm approaching this from more of a crafts/design perspective. Years ago I had a friend who would send me Cigarette (Trading/Advertising) Cards—a perfect example of conscious, clever marketing. And fun. The W.D. and H.O. Wills Company (later to found Britain's Imperial Tobacco Company) were one of the first companies to include these sets of cards with their cigarettes. Six years later, in 1893, John Player and Sons produced one of the first general interest sets: "Castles and Abbeys". Like a cracker-jack prize for Adults, or perhaps the children that live with them. I cannot deny the fact that I would probably would have bought a pack of cigarettes, just to get the card:

I'm reminded as I type this that John Player and Sons also produced my Dear Friend's very favorite cigarettes—Player's Navy Cut. I still, to this day, want the box every time he finishes them. I fully admit here to a sentimental and nostalgic, warmfuzzy-feeling every time I see their logo:

I'm not alone in this; there are quite a few articles online about who exactly the man on the box may have been. From what I can gather, more fingers point towards a Sailor named Thomas Huntley, but without confirmation, I can just adore the lore (click) that goes along with this. Certainly not all packaging provides this type of contemplation. I think part of my sentiment stems from a time where creative spirit relied on one's imagination. An image on a box now becomes the simple embodiment of adventure and spirit. Tangible. Something one hopes for, but for now or until then, can simply be held in the palm of your hand. Back to the Advertising Cards—Wills Co. followed up a year or so later with their, "Ships and Sailors", followed by "Cricketers" and so on. Popular themes were "Beauties" (what my friend used to send), "Sporters" (uniforms, team colors, etc.), "Heraldry" (very popular) and "Air Raid Precautions" (in 1938 Great Britain—what I'm guessing to be a more sobering/educational series geared to help the citizens cope with the war).

Below is an example of what is called, "The Holy Grail" of Cigarette Trading Cards—The Honus Wagner Card (from the American Tobacco Company's Minor League/T206 Set):

The example above sold for over $2 Million. Theories as to the rarity of the card are tied. It was produced in a fairly small edition and my favorite story as to why is that the plate used in the printing process simply broke, and the printer did not make another. This doesn't make any sense, but I appreciate that Historians give Printers such power (!). Some claim a copyright dispute between the original artist and the American Tobacco Company turned sour, and the thought being than Wagner didn't want to be associated with cigarette smoking (though he loved chewing tobacco and his image was depicted on cigar boxes). Most likely is that he wanted better $ compensation. And now the card is worth millions. Oh, irony, you never cease to amuse me.

Perhaps you've seen them around, but have you ever opened up a package of Zig Zag (click) rolling papers? The design, die-cutting and attention to detail is impeccable. A perfect use of materials, in my opinion. Having just written this, I popped around the internet and would be an absolute jerk if I didn't mention Zig Zag's (seriously fantastic) website (click). Have a look to learn more about the process and history of their papers. See? I know what I speak of! As a bookbinder and printer, I can't help but love the the cross-overs in both of our crafts (just turn down the music—it's not helping that jazzy-pot-thing). Worlds Collide, indeed.
On that note, I will leave you this last website to swoon over: the Catalogue of Cigarette Rolling Papers (click). I could honestly spend hours poring over the beauty, detail and craft that is used to create such simple, everyday items. Happy Friday! xo Victoria

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