Digest>Archives> Sep/Oct 2015

Lighthouse Tobacco Cards

By Timothy Harrison

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In 1911 to 1912, the American Tobacco Company, which manufactured Hassan Cork Tipped Cigarettes, made a series of 50 different lighthouse trading cards to stiffen the packs of cigarettes.

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The practice of adding trading cards to packs of cigarettes reached its peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition to popular sports figures, a smoker was just as likely to find images of famous political figures, national flags, military scenes, animals, beautiful women, aero-planes, horseless carriages, and of course, given their iconic status, lighthouses.

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The American Tobacco Company sent photographs of lighthouses to an artist in Germany to paint images for them for the cigarette packs. Since all the photographs were black and white, the company also sent the artist written descriptions of the lighthouses. However, in their haste to get the images to the artist to complete his paintings, the company couldn’t find photographers to photograph some of the lighthouses, so they only sent a description of some of the lighthouses. Some of those descriptions must have been quite good. But, as you can see from the end result, some of the paintings are a far cry from what the actual lighthouse looks like. Some of the obvious examples of this are the cards featuring the Maine’s Nubble Lighthouse, Goat Island Lighthouse, and Boon Island Lighthouse. Perhaps they couldn’t find a photographer in Maine willing to take photos for them. The artist might have also have taken some artistic license, as can be seen on many of the other cards.

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Each one of the 50 cards included a brief description of the lighthouse on the reverse side. At the time it was boasted that “Hassan, Cork Tip Cigarettes, The Oriental Smoke,” were the largest selling brand of cigarettes in America.

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If you were to try to collect an entire set today, it will require a lot of searching on auction sites, and by attending card shows and paper collectible events. But, with time and a small investment, you might find the journey well worth it and who knows, you might also stumble upon other rare lighthouse collectibles to add to your collection.

Today, a complete set of the 50 of the Hassan lighthouse cards is quite rare, and a set in good condition can sell for well over $500. However, a number of years ago, when Harbour Lights was still in business, they produced a limited number of replicas of complete sets, and nowhere on the set does it indicate that they are a reproductions, so the old adage of “buyer beware” applies. You don’t want to overpay.

For historical and educational purposes we are delighted to show you here images of a complete collection of the 50 lighthouse cards as well as a sample of what the reverse side of the cards looked like with the descriptions that they offered.

This story appeared in the Sep/Oct 2015 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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