What’s in a Collection? Tobacco Card

As a youth and avid collector of sports cards when you heard the words tobacco cards it was pretty exciting.  As a kid they were considered old and rarely seen as a lad in the Midwest.  These trading cards were from the turn of the century and featured some of the most famous sport figures at the time like Cy Young, Ty Cobb, and Jack Johnson.  However, tobacco cards or trading cards were not just strictly sport cards.

2012020001_frontIn the late 1800s, the tobacco industry started to include trading cards with their product as promotional material.  Several of these card series were educational and trivia filled.  Topics ranged from historic figures, actors/actresses, military leaders, biology and even lighthouses.

In our collections we have a tobacco card from 1889.   This particular card was part of the series Yacht Colors of the World (series N91).  Yacht Colors of the World was produced in three separate series, N91 was a set of 50 cards issued by W. Duke, Sons & Co. for Duke Brand cigarettes. The series featured several actors from the day modeling these various yacht club colors and featured the club flag as well.

The card in our collections highlights Genevieve Lytton decked out in the St. Augustine Yacht Club colors.  Genevieve Lytton was a theater actress from late 1800s appearing in several productions.  Ms. Lytton was known for starring in “The Kite”, which Duke cigarettes showcased her in another series called Fancy Dress Ball Costumes (series N107).  These cards were distributed with Duke’s Cigarettes, Duke’s Mixture, and Honest Long Cut tobacco products.   This card and series was distributed with the Honest Long Cut packages.

The card is relatively small with dimensions of 4 inches by 2.5 inches.  The lithography’s detail and color was pretty amazing considering this was an adult equivalent to the surprise in a box of cereal.  However, the details and trivial information with them probably added to the appeal even if the Dukes claim as “The Best Smoking and Chewing Tobacco” was subject to difference in opinion at the time.  The marketing technique worked as tobacco trading cards continued to be inserted into packages until the 1940s.

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The St. Augustine Yacht Club was featured in this series along with yacht clubs from places like New York, Boston and Paris.  The yacht club official formed in 1873 and was Florida’s first yacht club (and one of 29 in the nation at that time).  The club, of course, promoted yachting and racing.

Additionally, the club charter included the responsibility of defending and blockading the inlet to St Augustine in times of war (this charter was issued by the US Department of War).  The colors and pennant (burgee) featured on the card exhibit a white fortress on the red field.  This flag design is stilled utilized by the St. Augustine Yacht Club today.

Jason Titcomb is the Chief Curator for the St Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.  He holds a graduate degree in anthropology from Iowa State University.