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R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company
Valuable Presents Given for Tobacco Tags for the Entire Year of 1902. These are Exact Fac-similes of the Tags Redeemable under Our Offer Fully Explained Inside
[Winston-Salem, N.C.]: [R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.], [1902].


This R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company publication informs its customers about redeeming tags—an early version of a proof of purchase seal—found on their products for "presents." The introduction provides instructions on how and where to send tags and the timetable for receiving items. The more tags customers accumulated and mailed to the company, the better the premium they earned. The remainder of the publication contains Reynolds tobacco product advertisements and illustrations and descriptions of available premiums, along with the number of tags a customer must redeem to receive that item. Product choices include furniture, kitchenware, toiletries, clothes, instruments, and weapons.

The tag-gift exchange reveals a good deal about both turn of the century consumer tastes and the development of the tobacco industry. The program as a whole is an excellent example of how Reynolds and other manufacturers boosted consumer demand through innovative advertising techniques. In the early 1900s, Reynolds concentrated on making plug (chewing tobacco), and these tags were for brands of plug and to a lesser extent, for smoking tobacco, rather than cigarettes. W. Duke and Sons in Durham had begun manufacturing cigarettes in the 1880s, but other tobacco firms did not add cigarettes to their product lines until later. The wide range of tags that customers could redeem also suggests that turn of the century tobacco firms marketed many brands. Consumers still identified taste and quality with a particular type of tobacco leaf, such as Golden Crown, Strawberry, Early Bird, rather than with a corporate name like Reynolds.

The types of gifts offered to loyal customers also provide clues about turn of the century lifestyles and habits. Some of the smaller gifts, such as pocket watches, penknives, toilet kits, cuff links, and suits of clothing were for men, as chewing and smoking tobacco were principally male pastimes (women did not begin smoking in large numbers until the 1920s). There are, however, several decorative items that husbands could give to their wives. Furniture prizes, for example, were intended for an entire family to enjoy. The elaborate Victorian styling of almost all of these gifts, large and small, demonstrates that they were social status symbols as well as practical items, and indicates that Reynolds tried to appeal to the growing urban, middle and professional class. However, even a factory worker or a small farmer could don some of the trappings of middle class success if he chewed enough tobacco.

Monique Prince

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