Playing Cards Gallery

A National Cigar History Museum Exclusive

© Tony Hyman

This exhibit was expanded greatly in August of 2009 thanks to the assistance

of Sandy Mead who made it possible for me to obtain the majority of the cigar,

cigarette and tobacco playing cards in the Darlene Schwein collection.

In January 2010, I was able to obtain the Pascal Raemdonck collection of European cards.

Both collections have been split into two exhibits, here and in the Cigarette Gallery.

        If you’re a smoker, you’re just about certain to light up when enjoying a friendly game of cards. So what could be more natural than offering cigar smokers free or inexpensive decks of cards to play with?

        The first cigar-playing card combination of which collectors are aware was offered in 1879, shortly after packaging laws were changed to permit oddly shaped boxes.  A.L. & B., whomever they were, ordered A. Lichtenstein, one of the 72 New
York City factories employing more than 100 rollers, to pack 100 cigars in a clever slide-top novelty box that could be easily converted to a cribbage board. A deck of cards was included inside CRIB BOX brand, but so far, one has never turned up.

    The following year, distributor E.C. Hazard ordered SOCIAL GAME, a cribbage board box to be filled by Kimball, Crouse & Co., another of the 72. Pegs were included, but the width of the divider inside the box makes it uncertain whether cards were also included.

    There was no doubt that Detroit’s Brown Bros. included a deck in the fancy poker set they gave as a premium to selected distributors sometime around the turn-of-the- century, before they were bought up by the tobacco trust. A poker-size deck fits perfectly in the sadly empty space.

    Like the metal chips, the missing deck probably had a FONTELLA back to advertise their 5¢ leading seller. Such a deck exists but I haven’t seen one for sale since obtaining this.

    Another box which contained both cigars and playing cards is this Mission style package used by an unknown Cuban cigar maker during the bridge craze of the 1920s.  The inclusion of bridge scoring on the lid suggests it was intended to sit on or near the table.

    No deck has been found.

    One of the more recent boxes of cigars to include a deck of playing cards is this WHITE OWL Pleasure Chest. In addition to cards, it came with 25 cigars, a checker board, checkers with chess-piece markings, and six dice.

    Sadly, General Cigar chose to use generic cards rather a deck with a distinctive advertising back. Alas.

If a reader can tell me the year it was sold, and perhaps provide a magazine ad, I’d post it

        An unknown number of cigar and other companies used the backs of playing cards to display advertising.  The practice began in the 1870s and continues 140 years later. The Museum is fortunate to have met Sandy Mead, who was handling the estate of her mother, Darlene Schwein. Mrs. Schwein was an avid collector of decorative backed playing cards for thirty years, and I was able to obtain the majority of her cigar, cigarette, and tobacco related cards, greatly expanding the size of this exhibit and my knowledge of the variety available.

    A few months later, thanks to the world wide web I met Belgian collector Pascal Raemdonck who was about to sell his 30 year playing card collection on ebay. I bought 263 tobacco related cards from him, 32 of which were cigar-related and can be found at the end of this exhibit. The balance of both collections can be found in the Cigarette Gallery.

U.S. TOBACCO JOURNAL, November, 1929