Duke Cigarette Booklets of Civil War Generals

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In the 1870’s and early 1880’s paraphernalia concerning the U.S. Civil War appeared in huge numbers.  Books, articles, art work, and other items flooded the country.  W. Duke and Sons was an innovative tobacco and cigarette company that exploited the popularity of Civil War heroes to promote their cigarettes.  In the 1880’s, they produced fifty small booklets about both Union and Confederate heroes that were included as premiums in Duke cigarette packs.  If customers collected 100 coupons included with the booklets, they could redeem them for a souvenir album.  These booklets and albums are highly collectible today, and there are collectors clubs across the nation.  The rarest of the booklets is that honoring U.S. Gen.  Irvin McDowell, because some booklets were printed with the name as “J. M. McDowell,” instead of “I. M. McDowell.”

Duke cigarettes also created a roller skating polo team in order to promote their products.  They did not tell the audience that their team was promoting cigarettes until the end of the game when cigarettes were passed out to male audience members and pictures of actresses to the female members.  Then and only then was the game revealed as a promotional stunt.

In the 1890’s and early 1900’s Duke also produced a baseball player series and an actress series of lithographs as cigarette premiums.   James B. Duke was an obsessive person who would pick up any empty Duke cigarette pack off the street.  One of his advertising schemes was to give out a reward of $50 for anyone who turned in the most empty packs.

Duke University at Durham, North Carolina, is named for this family.

——Jack Dickinson, Blake Library Bibliographer

Created by Lisle Brown, former Curator Special Collections, © 2013, Special Collections, Marshall University