Artifact of the Month: Tobacco pouch

Our January Artifact of the Month follows in the tobacco-tinged footsteps of last month’s Artifact, although this one is quite a bit older and, one might argue, a little easier on the eyes than the Joe Camel holiday lighter.

tobacco pouch

tobacco pouch

This tobacco pouch once held Seal of North Carolina Plug Cut tobacco, a product of the Marburg Brothers company. The pouch came to us via a collection of materials donated to the Southern Historical Collection from a descendant of Wylie Becton Fort (1841-1926), a landowner from Wayne County who attended UNC before enlisting in the Confederate Navy. The collection consists mostly of manuscript materials related to Mr. Fort and his family. The tobacco pouch will be housed in the NCC Gallery to ensure its preservation according to museum standards.

If you’ve never seen a tobacco pouch before, you’ve probably correctly surmised that it was simply a pouch for carrying tobacco. But you may not know that sewing the drawstrings into these pouches was once a popular way for people — often women — in the South to earn extra income. If you’re curious, you can see letters and photos related to tobacco bag stringing in this online exhibit.

Selling “cool”

The advertising strategy of Seal of North Carolina Plug Cut Tobacco focused on associating the brand with the state of North Carolina, a state known for its superior tobacco. A great example can be found via this cigarette card, shared by Flickr user Harvey&Marie, which boasts of “old North Carolina leaf”:

cigarette card

It’s worth noting that the phrase “smokes cool” appears in the advertising language used for this tobacco, prefiguring the “smooth” and “cool” themes that featured so heavily in the Joe Camel ad campaign. Of course, “cool” had a different shade of meaning back in Mrs. Cleveland’s day.

Mrs. Cleveland, of course, is Frances Folsom Cleveland, the 27th first lady of the United States, making this yet another reflection of how much has changed in our cultural perceptions of tobacco use. And, for that matter, our cultural perceptions of first ladies.

We’re grateful to the donor for sharing this tobacco pouch; a seemingly empty bag that holds a good bit of history.