VIRGIL JOHNSON COLLECTION OF CIGARETTE PACKAGES, CA. 1890-1997
(25 cu. ft.: 2 DB, 21 F/O, 3 Shoeboxes)
by: Mimi Minnick, July 1998
As a teenager, Virgil Johnson [b.1918] became interested in the designs and symbols on cigarette packs like "Black Cat" and "White Roll", and he began actively collecting in the 1930s. His interest intensified during the 1940s when he was stationed in North Africa and across the Mediterranean region as a photographer with the U.S. Navy. Mr. Johnson collected cigarette packs for over fifty years, and was a member of the Cigarette Pack Collector's Association.
Scope and Content Note
The collection consists of approximately 6,000 cigarette packages, ca. 1890-1997, arranged in 24 albums. The cigarette packages offer a strong base for research into the categories of visual imagery created, associated with, and manipulated for the sale of tobacco products. Researchers interested in the history of design will also find these packages a useful source, as they reflect design modifications (in image, logo, typeface, and package features) over time for virtually every brand marketed in the U.S. and an enormous selection of those marketed overseas, by both U.S. and other global tobacco concerns.
This collection is arranged into three (3) Series:
Series 1: CIGARETTE PACKAGES, 1890-1997 Packages were carefully unfolded and flattened by the collector, then mounted with Duco cement on heavyweight 11"x17" paper. For each package there are also a cigarette wrapper and a sample of the filter material.
Subseries 1: Foreign Cigarettes manufactured and/or sold in foreign countries, including American cigarettes sold overseas. They are organized by country of origin and then under alphabetically by name of manufacturer.
Subseries 2: American Cigarettes manufactured and sold in the United States; arranged alphabetically by name of manufacturer.
Subseries 3: Index Cards Card file index maintained by the collector cross-referencing name and manufacturer and indicating album location, date, and other identifying information for each pack. Boxes 22 and 23 are foreign cigarettes arranged alphabetically by brand. Box 24 is American cigarettes arranged alphabetically by brand.Series 2: BOOKS AND ARTICLES ABOUT TOBACCO AND TOBACCO COLLECTING, 1927-1994 Includes one box of publications about the history of tobacco and tobacco collecting, and one box of newsletters of the Cigarette Pack Collector's Association, Brandstand: Viewing the World of Cigarette Collecting, ca. 1978-1998.
Series 3: BOOKS ABOUT TOBACCO AND TOBACCO COLLECTING These titles have been transferred to NMAH Library.
Thirty (30) empty wood, metal, and plastic cigarette packs are also part of the Virgil Johnson Collection. They are housed with the Consumer Culture Collections in the Cultural History Division, which also holds several dozen cigarette packs from the Walter Landor/Landor Associates Industrial Design Collection (AC 500).
The Archives Center is nationally recognized as a site in which to pursue research into the history of tobacco advertising. The Warshaw Collection (AC 60) include many thousands of tobacco advertisements and cigar box labels from the 19th and 20th centuries; the Ayer Collection (AC 59) includes advertising proofsheets for American Tobacco, Phillip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and other cigarette and cigar manufacturers since the 1870s. The Marlboro Collection (AC 198) includes print ads, company publications, and oral history interviews with tobacco industry and advertising agency personnel. The Walter Landor/Landor Associates Industrial Design Collection (AC 500) includes documentation on package design for numerous tobacco companies since the 1950s, and the newly acquired Sandra and Gary Baden Collection of Celebrity Endorsements in Advertising (AC 611) contains several hundred ads featuring movie stars, singers, politicians, and athletes promoting tobacco products since the 1890s.
4,000 cigarettes, also donated by Mr. Johnson, each contained in a screw top glass vial, were donated to the Center for Disease Control's Office of Smoking and Health in Atlanta, Georgia.
The collection was donated to the Archives Center of the National Museum of American History in July 1998, by Mr. Virgil Johnson, a resident of Alexandria, Virginia.
by: Mimi Minnick, July 1998