Tobacco cards were first included in cigarette packs in the 1870s, with the purpose of stiffening each pack to lessen the chance that it would be crushed or bent. It wasn’t long before some enterprising soul saw their potential for brand promotion and a new advertising medium was born.
By the mid-1880s, manufacturers were printing themed sets of tobacco cards, with each card in the set bearing a unique image. The idea was to encourage brand loyalty by creating consumers’ desire to complete a set — so the themes capitalized on the popularity of certain cultural interests. Baseball players, boxers, and aviators all appeared on tobacco cards. And so, of course, did beautiful young actresses.
Below is a collection of 30 portraits of stage actresses cigarette cards from the early 1900s: