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.

8 thoughts on “Artifact of the Month: Tobacco pouch”

  1. I recently found a “Lincoln” cigarette card in some old artifacts belonging to our grandparents. It is in very good shape. Is there somebody that could tell me any info about it and what might be it’s value?


  2. In going through my husband’s collection of pipes – and all things related, I came across a hand-strung North Carolina tobacco pouch. You can never imagine how excited I was, as a historian, to find information on your website about the pouch as well as the 1939 survey of the cottage industry that was such an essential income for so many families at that time.

  3. Hello,
    I have a copy of just the center of the the seal that was used in the design of the plug cut tobacco design. It is a letterpress cut in a collection that I have in my family business. We have been in business for 118 years and I have several older cuts for business in and around our area.
    I was delighted to see the image of the bag and a box online. Could you give any history behind the seal itself.
    Any information you may have would be greatly appreciated.
    Margaret B. Ward

    Barrett’s Printing House, Inc.
    409 Goldsboro St. South
    Wilson, NC 27893


  4. Thanks for your comment, Margaret; the letterpress cut sounds neat!

    I’m sure you’ve noticed that the image on the pouch doesn’t look precisely like the actual Seal of North Carolina. The seal itself did evolve over time, but since the 19th century, two figures have consistently appeared on the seal: Liberty (who’s holding a staff) and Plenty (who has a cornucopia).

    The background of the actual state seal depicts mountains and a ship on the sea. It’s hard to make out on the pouch because of the size of the image and because it’s printed on textured cotton, but the graphic used on the tobacco pouch has only the ship. In place of the mountains there appears to be a brick wall with some bushes or trees in front of it.

    A larger, full-color image is here:×1000.jpg

    Curiously, this iteration of the seal doesn’t seem to appear in any of its historical versions. It may be that the Marburg Brothers Company took some liberties with the image in the interest of branding.

    There are a couple good articles about the state seal here:

    And a digitized version of Bryan J. Grimes’ helpful 43-page book “Great Seal of the State of North Carolina, 1666-1909” is here:

  5. I have an very old pouch as shown above no drawstrings.Is it worth keeping? Does it have any value?

  6. I found a Carolina Brights pouch.Has WELL Whitehead tobacco Co.Wilson North Carolina.Union Made stamp on it.Its green.Red and green string.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *