EVAN RANGELOFF COLLECTION OF PUNCHBOARDS, ca. 1910-1970 and LIGGETT & MYERS TOBACCO SALES MATERIALS, CA. 1955-1991
(3.5 cu. ft: 5 db, 3 f/o; 1shb)
by: Mimi Minnick, March 2000
During and after his employment as a salesman and regional sales manager with Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company in Duluth, Minnesota, Mr. Rangeloff began collecting the gambling and sales promotion devices known as punchboards. In 1999-2000, he donated a large and representative selection of punchboards to the Archives Center, along with a small body of business papers.
The term "punchboard" (or in some cases "punch board", "push board", "punchcard", or "pushcard") refers to a gambling device popular in the United States from roughly 1910 until 1970. Punchboards could be used for fundraising, sales promotion and gambling - sometimes all at once. Punchboards were typically found in places where men gathered socially, such as bars, pool halls, barber shops and mens' clubs. Punchboards also could be found in beauty parlors, drug stores and other small retail establishments. With their promise of easy money, punchboards enjoyed great success during the Depression, and continued to enjoy popularity during and after World War II. According to Scarne's Complete Guide to Gambling (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1961), approximately 30 million punchboards were sold between 1910 and 1915. Scarne estimated that 50 million punchboards were sold in 1939 alone, at the peak of their popularity. Punchboard sales declined significantly after WWII, and by the mid-1970s the boards had been outlawed in most states.
Punchboards trace their lineage to 18th century lottery game boards. These handmade boards, with the winning ticket placed by the operator, offered no safeguards against corruption, however, and their misuse may have contributed to the game's waning popularity. In 1905, C.A. Brewer and C.G. Scannell patented a new version of the traditional game. By 1910, modern manufacturing techniques, including the invention of board stuffing machines and ticket folding machines, contributed to the reinvigoration of the punchboard. The new punchboards were constructed of cardboard, with a sheet of paper or foil covering both front and back of the board. This covering was intended to prevent the operator from discovering where the winning tickets were or otherwise tampering with the board. Cheap, portable, disposable, and offering a ready vehicle for advertising, punchboards are an exuberant, if ephemeral, expression of 20th century mass culture.
A modern punchboard typically consists of a square or rectangular piece of pressed wood or cardboard (from ½ inch to one inch in thickness) in which hundreds or thousands of holes have been drilled in a regular pattern, then loaded with tiny slips of rolled or folded paper. Each slip of paper had a number or symbol printed on it. Both front and back of the board were covered with a foil or paper seal. The front of the board typically featured some form of attention-getting commercial imagery and a chart listing the winning number or combination of numbers and symbols, along with the prizes or cash amounts to be awarded to the winners. The boards were sold with a metal stylus or "punch" for the players to use.
A player paid the punchboard's operator a set amount of money (typically a nickel, dime or quarter) for a chance to use a metal stylus to break the seal on the hole of his choice, and "punch" one of the slips of paper out of the board. If the number or symbols found on the slip of paper matched one of the pre-determined winning combinations, the player was awarded the corresponding prize.
Punchboard manufacturers sold the boards blank or preprinted. Blank boards were sold to "jobbers" or salesmen who then added their own imagery or advertisement, and many surviving punchboards feature advertisements for products that were inexpensive and had mass appeal, such as peanuts, candy and cigarettes. Some of these boards offered the advertised product as the prize; these came to be known as prizeboards. Some prizeboards were constructed with a shadow box meant to contain prizes such as rhinestone sunglasses, wristwatches, Bowie knives or even handguns. Punchboard manufacturers also sold the board pre-printed with various kinds of commercial imagery - sports, gambling, and patriotic imagery were well-represented, as were folk figures, racial and ethnic stereotypes, and the ubiquitous pin-up girls. Most of these boards were played for cash.
Scope & Content
The collection includes several dozen punchboards, all unpunched and in very good to excellent condition, and featuring a range of products and imagery. The collection includes two punchboard manufacturer's catalogs from the 1940s, which detail the money-making opportunities for jobbers and retailers.
The collection also contains correspondence, employment forms, promotional literature, photographs and sales training literature from Evan "Ding" Rangeloff's early career as a sales representative and regional sales manager for Liggett and Myers Tobacco Company. Of particular interest are sales training manuals which explore the psychology of selling in the 1950s, manuals which detail sales cigarette marketing strategies at military bases and on Indian reservations, and materials relating to L&M's sponsorship of Formula One car racing in the 1970s.
The collection is arranged in four series:
Series 1: Business Records, ca. 1954-1991
Series 2: Photographs, ca. 1920-1970
Series 3: Sales Training Literature, ca. 1955-1957, 1974, 1979
Series 4: Punchboards, ca. 1910-1970
Donated to the Archives Center of the National Museum of American History by Evan Rangeloff of Duluth, Minnesota, in October 1999.
Collection organized and finding aid prepared by Mimi Minnick, March 2000. The historical portion of this text is based on material from Punchboard.com (http://www.punchboard.com) and is reprinted with the kind permission of Punchboard.com, courtesy Marcus Stafford.