Tobacco Silks

I recently purchased these two neat little tobacco silks at a tag sale.

 Germany Tobacco Silk


 Greece Tobacco Silk


Unlike the name suggests, tobacco or cigarette silks were usually not made from silk, but from satin.  Images were printed on the satin, and used as collectors items, often targeting women.  These particular satins date from 1911 to 1914.  Several things help date these, but it is most evident in the Germany satin:


  1. Printed at the top right and along the bottom center is ‘Nebo Cigarettes, Factory no 21 5th District N.J.’  Nebo Cigarettes, started c. 1899 in New York, was bought out by the P. Lorillard Company based out of New Jersey in 1911 with the dissolution of the American Tobacco Company.

    Detail of Germany silk

    Detail of Germany silk

  2. The women both have the defined busts and waists of corsets.  Corsets were on the decline starting in 1914, and girdles replaced corsets with newer generations of women by the 1920s.  Women preferred the long lines and boyish silhouettes provided by the girdles, which supported the area from waist to hips, instead of the strict figure supplied by the corset, covering from the top of the bust to below the hips.


Fashion plate from 1912.

Fashion plate from 1912.



Fashion Plate from 1914 illustrating the start of the boyish silhouette and the move from corsets.

Fashion Plate from 1914 illustrating the start of the boyish silhouette and the move from corsets.


  1. The German woman’s uniform further dates the satins.  She wears the Prussian Garde du Corps helmet, and Imperial German cavalry uniform of Kaiser Wilhelm II, King of Prussian and Germany Emperor from 1888 to 1918.
'The Kaiser's Army in Color: Uniforms of the Imperial German Army, 1890-1910' illustrated by Carl Becker

‘The Kaiser’s Army in Color: Uniforms of the Imperial German Army, 1890-1910’ illustrated by Carl Becker

By the start of World War I, these fancy uniforms were replaced with the more understated blue-gray uniforms, along with the helmets with the spike seen in many anti-German World War I propaganda posters.


An anti-German World War I poster.  Notice the stark difference in uniform and helmet from the uniform a few years earlier.

An anti-German World War I poster. Notice the stark difference in uniform and helmet from the uniform a few years earlier.


Satins were popular in the early 1900s, and were considered collectible ‘premiums,’ usually only found with more expensive brands of cigarettes.  Collectors often had to send off coupons from cigarette packs to obtain one or more satins.   A variety of satin series’ were created, and included busts of Native Americans, royalty, Victorian women, flags, well-known celebrities, and sports stars. One of the main goals, besides generating brand loyalty, was to encourage women to smoke.  Women collected the satins and were encouraged to create household items.  Many sewed quilts or pillows featuring their collected satins, and often coined ‘Crazy Quilts.’

 Further Reading:

The Barrington House. ‘Fashion Plates 1914.’ The Barrington House. 9 June 2013. Image. 4 August 2013.

Becker, Carl. ‘The Kaiser’s Army in Color: Uniforms of the Imperial German Army, 1890-1910.’ Data Life Engine. 7 January 2008. Image. 4 August 2013,1,the_kaisers_army_in_color._uniforms_of_the_imperial_german_army_as_illustrated_by_carl_becker_18901910.html

Brenemen, Judy Ann. ‘Tobacco Premium Quilt History: Silks, Ribbons, and Flannels.’ America’s Quilting History. 2001. Web. 4 August 2013.

Brick, Cindy.  Crazy Quilts: History, Techniques, Embroidery Motifs.  Minneapolis, MN: Voyageur Press, 2008. Print.

Dollhouse Bettie. ‘The Girdle Story Part 1: The Beginnings.’ Partial Coverage. 4 August 2013. Web. 4 August 2013

Hyman, Tony. ‘Silks and Satins.’ National Cigar Museum. 2013. Web. 16 July 2013.

King’s College London. ‘Recruitment Posters.’ King’s Collection, King’s Collection London. 30 April 2013. Image. 4 August 2013.

Shaw, James. ‘Nebo Cigarettes.’ Jim’s Burnt Offerings. 8 November 2010. Web. 16 July 2013.

Symes, Peter. ‘Fashion Plates 1912.’ Wynne’s Diary. 29 July 2013. Image. 4 August 2013.

Stevens, Sue. Kiwis at War: Cigarette Silks-Military Textile Collection. National Army Museum. 2010. Web. 4 August 2013.



Filed under 1910s

7 responses to “Tobacco Silks

  1. Jim

    I had never heard of tobacco silks before. What an interesting piece of history. I love to learn about popular historical culture. I also had a very different idea about what a girdle was for. I had thought it was similar to a corset in that it was supposed to accentuate feminine features.

    • Glad you enjoyed the silks 🙂 You are right about the girdle accentuating feminine features, but they did it in a different respect than the corset did. A corset featured unnaturally tiny waists, while a girdle accentuated more natural curves (or in the 1920s case, giving sleek, long lines) still with a tiny waist, but in a less restrictive way. Women were becoming more independent, and as women’s rights/suffrage progressed, so did women’s fashion.

  2. Sue

    I enjoyed reading this very much. I had no idea there was such a thing as cigarette and cigar silks and ribbons. Seems they are equivalents of baseball cards as a means of marketing. Considering the contradiction of the tobacco industry’s positive influence on the founding and economy of this country vs. the negatives of tobacco’s proven hazards to health, the history is somehow softened by knowing a lady’s touch created beautiful, comforting quilts from the silks and ribbons. Thanks! :o)

  3. Brittany

    That was interesting, I didn’t know anything about tobacco silks until I read this. Where did you find them? They look like they’re in good condition.

    • You spotted it right-they’re actually in great condition! They have some minor soiling, but otherwise, they look like they are fairly new 🙂 I found them at an estate sale in Salem and thought they were neat looking. I had no idea what they were either until I started doing some research!

  4. This is a lovely post, Ashley. Hugs.

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