Growing up in the 70s and 80s, it wasn’t uncommon to find a collectable card or sticker inside packages of potato chips, cereal, and other junky treats and snacks. We’d save our pennies to buy them, enticed more by the possibility of finding a River Phoenix or Cyndi Lauper card than the treats themselves.
It’s hard to imagine it now, but the precursor to this sort of “free with purchase” promotion dates as far back as the early 1900′s when cigarette companies sold their product with a collectible card inside. “Cigarette cards” came in a wide range of series, providing information on just about any topic imaginable. Over the years I have purchased several cards from flea markets and antique fairs that are specifically botanical or garden-related. Many of the cards are beautifully illustrated and include gardening hints and tips on the back such as “Starting Bulbs” or “Pruning Black Currant Bushes.”
Despite the beauty of these cards, none are more remarkable than the Kensitas cigarettes silk flowers cards. Produced in the 1930′s, Kensitas cards were woven in silk and depicted popular garden flowers of the day. Each silk came inside its own protective cover that included the growing information, history, and background of each plant, as well as an ad for the product.
Recently, while researching vintage printed matter for our site SUPERfantastico, my partner Davin came upon an amazing archive of Kensitas silks available through the New York Public Library. The archive features 40 cards, depicting the silks themselves in detail as well as all sides of their accompanying covers. The images are so good, it’s almost as good as having them in your hands.
In doing some research on the cards, I found that they may have been “copied,” at least in part from Dutch cards issued by The Turkish-Macedonian Tobacco Company several years prior. These silks, woven with black backgrounds are even more stunning than the Kensitas.