Cigarette Pack Collectors' Association

                                   The National Cigarette & Tobacco Company

   

 

           

 

    National Cigarette & Tobacco Company’s flagship

    brand called Admiral was first marketed in 1883.

    Ad copy proudly proclaimed them to be “Not Made By A Trust”     

                                                                   

   

    By 1890, there were only a few cigarette firms of any size in the country which had not been absorbed by Buck Duke’s American 

Tobacco Company Trust. Most notable among these independents was The National Cigarette and Tobacco Co. of New York City. This firm produced such brands as: Admiral, Royal Sweets, Opera Lights, Yellow Kid and High Admiral.  The company was  highly innovative in the promotion of  their brands. In the early 1890s, a huge electric sign was  installed high above the corner of 23rd St and Broadway in the heart of New York  City advertising their Admiral and Opera Lights Cigarettes. The brightly lit bulbs were, at the time, a new invention from the lab of the  renowned Thomas Edison and the sign was an instant sensation for all who saw it each night. It  may also have been a thorn  in the side of James ”Buck" Duke who had long resented the upstart competitor from New York.  

 

                                            

                                           

                                             Electric sign installed by The National Cigarette & Tobacco Company

                                                           high over Broadway in the 1890s to advertise their Admiral and Opera

                                                           Lights Cigarettes.   (From The Great Seduction by Gerard Petrone, MD)                                

 

   National also produced several sets of insert cards on such diverse topics as “Art Subjects”, “Famous Actresses”, “National Types” and “Views” (which included a picture of the Chicago Exposition building where the firm displayed their wares at the 1893 World’s Fair). In addition, the company issued a set of 154 celluloid buttons dedicated to the famous Yellow Kid cartoon character which became so popular that they eventually secured the rights to manufacture a cigarette under the Yellow Kid name. There were several other publicity stunts which the company employed such as having dozens of pretty young girls riding bikes around the city with “Smoke Admiral Cigarettes” banners adorning their costumes.

 

     All of these merchandising efforts paid off and sales of their brands were on the rise during the late 1880s and early 1890s. However, Duke was not about to let this upstart company prosper for long. Legal documents from the era detail a sustained effort by American Tobacco to put pressure on tobacco jobbers to drop National’s brands or face the loss of commissions on the widely popular ATC brands.  Buried deep in the contracts which the jobbers were required to sign was a clause which in effect said that if they did not act in “the best interests” of American Tobacco Co., then the agreement was nullified and the ability to distribute ATC’s brands taken away. The threat was usually enough to drive away Duke’s competitors. However, National was not ready to give up the fight and sell out to Duke. Eventually, National did wind up being absorbed by Duke and the story of how that came about involves quite a bit of back- room maneuvering and the formation of another firm called Union Tobacco Company. 

         

                                                                       The Union Tobacco Company

   In the late 1890s, a group of wealthy Wall Street insiders set out to upset James “Buck” Duke’s plans to monopolize both the chewing tobacco and cigarette markets (and perhaps set themselves up to reap a large profit in the process). This was the height of the so-called “Plug Wars” and the lone prize in the plug industry which Duke had not been able to capture was the firm of Liggett & Myers of St. Louis. Liggett’s Scalping Knife plug tobacco was a major competitor for Duke’s Battle Axe brand and Liggett’s president, Col. Moses Wetmore vowed `never to sell out to Duke whom he detested. Meanwhile, Union had convinced William Butler, an American Tobacco executive, to defect from the trust and join Union as its’ president. In 1898, Union bought up National Cigarette & Tobacco as well as The Durham Tobacco Co. Using the influence of both William Butler and his brother George, Union’s management then sent renowned Wall Street lawyer Bernard Baruch, George Butler, and a former Naval Officer named Hazeltine (who was a long-time friend of Wetmore) to St. Louis to negotiate a deal to buy Liggett. Although the negotiations were long and tedious, a deal was eventually reached. Newspapers in New York and St. Louis quickly picked up on rumors that the “war” between Union and American Tobacco was actually a hoax and part of a conspiracy orchestrated by Buck Duke. According to this theory, Union Tobacco was actually set up and funded by Duke with the knowledge that while Liggett’s president would never sell out to American, he could be convinced to sell to Union if he believed that the two firms were rivals. The final act in this scenario would be for Union to merge with American. In fact, this is exactly how it played out although both Baruch and Duke’s biographer always denied that this was the case. In any event, both  National Cigarette and Liggett  wound up as part of Duke’s empire  and would remain so until 1911  when the trust was broken up.

 

                     

 

 

  High Admiral box issued during the

   Union Tobacco successor days.

                                                                                                                       

 

 

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