by Chris William
Over time, manufacturers of many products have produced promotional pieces to increase the sales in competitive markets. One such type of advertising item extensively used by cigarette manufacturers in Germany for several decades spanning the turbulent times following WW1 through the ascension of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (N.S.D.A.P. – Nazi party) were the small illustrated cards included in every pack of cigarettes.
French cigarette companies had begun inserting collectable cards in cartons as early as the 1850s, starting a new and innovative advertising ploy. Within 10 years, some German manufacturers started to include collectable, cut-out pictures printed on their chocolate candy packaging. During the following decades, with many other companies followed suit by including images to their product packaging.
Cigarettes were an expensive luxury at the end of the 19th century. At the time more men smoked cigars or pipes than cigarettes, and European women did not smoke in public at all. Promotional cards appeared appearing in cartons manufactured by Cigarettenfabrik Constantin of Dresden and Berlin in 1895 as a way to entice repeat customers. The company wisely supplied their customers with albums in which to paste the cards.
The Great War altered Germans’ perception of cigarette smoking. While it had been an indulgence of the wealthy prior to the war, cigarettes became the domain of the common man when the military regularly issued them to its troops during the conflict. In fact, many governmentally designed illustrated cards were included with these issues up until 1916.
After the war, the former soldiers and their families retained their newly acquired habit. To help promote their brands in the growing market, cigarette companies such as Delta and Reemtsma heavily advertised and distributed series of collectable cards.
Reemtsma introduced the idea of including numbered coupons with their cigarette packs instead of the actual collectable cards. The coupons were accumulated until a required number were attained, then mailed into a Cigaretten Bilderdienst (Cigarette picture service). The service would then mail back a set of photo cards that could be pasted into the blank spaces of a highly descriptive book that was purchased from the same cigarette company. This enabled the customers to receive undamaged and larger photo cards (that would not fit in cigarette packaging), along with allowing them to collect an entire set before a current series changed.
The content of these books included history, movie stars, sporting events, world cultures, flora and fauna, and other diverse subjects. Volumes were usually produced in 12 x 10 inch hardbound editions with 120 to 200 pages each. Books contained spaces for between 40 to 1,000 black-and-white or color photo cards ranging in size from 4 inches x 3 inches to 5 x 7.
The reverse of most cards had references to the volume title and space number to which the card was to be pasted. Besides photos, drawn color plates were also included with the cards, as well as on the pages of the finished albums. Cigarette books became very popular as a way to build colorful, informative, and inexpensive private libraries for the average family.
CIGARETTE CARDS DURING THE THIRD REICH
When Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party took power in 1933, cigarette companies celebrated the new national fervor while promoting their individual brands at the same time by changing their cards to reflect the popular ideas of patriotism and glorification of the Third Reich. Albums now contained front covers with titles such as “Adolf Hitler,” “Deutschland Erwache,” “Kampf ums Dritte Reich,” and other ultra nationalist slogans and themes corresponding to the propaganda dished out by the Nazi party. The albums celebrated the military service and history of Germany along with the accomplishments and leaders of Hitler’s Reich.
The wide popularity of cigarette books created a predicament between ideology, greed, and practicality for the Nazi movement. Loyal party members were expected to follow the philosophy of frowning upon tobacco use (as it was unhealthy for the Germanic people). In many cases, smoking was banned, e.g., for minors, SS officers, and police while in uniform, all citizens on public transportation, in bomb shelters, and in most advertising. Adolf Hitler even took a personal interest in the movement against tobacco use. He awarded gifts to members of his staff who successfully quit (though his future wife, Eva Braun, continued the habit, out of his sight).
On the other hand, despite the conflict with their ideology, Hitler’s government tolerated tobacco advertising for 9 years until 1942, at which time it declared a complete ban (mostly caused by the regime’s not wanting to call attention to the increase in consumer rationing). This lengthy tolerance resulted from two factors: The long term persistence of the tobacco industry to avidly promote the NSDAP as a way of maintaining its own economic survival under the Nazi regime, and Hitler’s government itself, that looked at losing a tax equal to 90% of the retail price on each pack of cigarettes sold. In addition to the lost revenue, the government’s plan wanted to slowly diminish cigarette use so as to not cause an upheaval among the German population.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, hundreds of thousands of copies of the various cigarette albums were produced and distributed during the Third Reich. When the war was lost, and the victorious allies marched into the German homeland, many of these books, along with other National Socialists’ printed dogma, were consigned to the burning piles of history. Those that survived, provide a vivid, often colorful look at the military, society, and values of the Third Reich.