Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Theatrical Cigarette Card

Wikimedia Commons
I have always liked illustrated Victorian advertising cards. As you know, I love old ads of any kind, but there is something special about those that show a little glimpse of what the world looked like a century or two ago. The cigarette card on your right takes us to the Old Bowery Theatre, at 165 Bowery in New York. There are people walking by and coming out of the nearby restaurant, and poster boards propped on the theater steps, telling which plays were on at the moment.

Cigarette cards were first printed in the 1870s, and by the end of the 19th century they were popular to collect.  You could find series of cards depicting everything from  popular sports heroes and actresses, to scenic places or even illustrated riddles.

The Bowery Theatre, as you can see, had a splendid facade with very tall, rather pinkish columns - somewhat out of place sandwiched between the more modest structures on the street. It opened in 1826, with room to seat 3,500 people;  it was the largest theater in the United States at the time.

By the late 19th century the Bowery had changed hands several times and had been home to various immigrant theatrical groups. It burned down in 1929, and wasn't rebuilt - in 1944, the site was bought for a future gas station. And today at 165 Bowery there is a shop called  Mandarin Dynasty (I looked on Google Maps). It sells "European Crystal Chandeliers" and is housed in a plain, postwar four story block - without a single majestic pink column to be seen.

Illustrated cigarette cards are a thing of the past now, no longer an interesting innovation. In our time, things like the eCigarette are innovative. The electronic cigarette, which delivers nicotine in a flavored liquid, in small amounts; electronic cigarette side effects may include slight sore throat or dry mouth at first, but there is no tobacco in them. Brands such as green smoke are often used by smokers trying to quit, as a helpful way of weaning themselves off of smoking. That is something no one in 1826 would have been able to imagine.

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