written by Lauren Klamm
Once a highly popular fad, cigarette silks were collectible printed squares tucked into cigarette packs. Used as a marketing tool, the images ran the gamut from national flags, famous art pieces to nobility and, even religious iconography.
These small squares were, called “silks”, but are actually printed, or woven, cotton.
Just as baseball cards were used to sell bubblegum, these squares were used to sell cigarettes to an ever increasing population of smokers. Manufactured in America and Britain, the trend was so popular Britain’s cigarette company, Godfrey Phillips, distributed over 20 series of prints, during a four year period.
As smoking became popular and acceptable for women, the squares became an effective marketing tool to reach the ever increasing multitude of smokers. Squares were used in sewing and many even made into quilts. Many manufacturers included sewing instructions, so household items could be made from the silks.
The popularity of the cigarette silk reached its zenith during World War I, and many images reflected the fervent patriotic sentiment of the time. Allied flags, military commanders and the British Royal family all graced these silks. This gimmick lost its popularity after the War and, by the early 1920’s, was phased out.