The practice of inserting advertising in tobacco products and packaging began about 1870 and was common throughout the late 19th Century and the first decades of the 20th Century. The inserts or “premiums” were varied, some more functional than others, but altogether interesting, and therefore they became collectible items to thousands of men, women and children. Tin tobacco tags, cigarette cards, cigar ribbons, cigarette silks, and tobacco flannels, are a small portion of the collectibles classified as Tobacciana.
It was between 1905 and 1910 that tobacco companies here in America, began inserting textile items into their cigarette and tobacco products. The fad for these textiles was between 1910 and 1916. At the beginning of WWI the practice of inserting textiles into cigarette or other tobacco packaging here in the United States was more or less abandoned. These items are not as well-known nor collected as other tobacco related items like cigar boxes or tins, cigarette cases and lighters.
One of the most popular of the tobacco inserts or premiums was the tobacco or cigarette “silk”. While they are called silks, they were actually made from a variety of fabrics such as silk or silk satin, a cloth combination of silk and cotton, a cotton sateen or even a plain woven cotton. The silks were often beautifully poly-chrome printed with varied subjects, and were usually printed with the tobacco company name.
Silks came printed in dozens of themes and in series formats. Very often the designs were the same types of designs as those seen on the cigarette cards. Themes included floral designs of every type, flags of all the different nations of the world, American Indian motifs including the great Indian Chiefs, popular actresses and actors, bathing beauties, Kings and Queens of the countries of Europe, animals of all types, and military themes with soldiers and medals from many countries, just to name a few. The silks came in different sizes and could be sewn together to make quilts or larger pictures. Some look like little rugs.
One of the most popular categories was that of popular sports activities, with ballplayers and athletes of every variety printed on the silks. Some silks unite two popular subjects, for example colleges and sports. These silks bear the name of popular American colleges, and depict designs showing athletes participating in the sports activities of that college.
Princeton, thus, made its way onto several silks.