American Girls

Countless cards were inserted in countless packs of cigarettes for decades starting in the later nineteenth century, for product (to avoid crushing the cigarettes inside), advertising, and revenue purposes (encouraging the formation of collections) and consequently cigarette cards form a huge category of ephemera. This is not really my category, but I do find some of the collections to be really interesting expressions of their era. A case in point are the several series of “State Girls” or “State Belles” offered by various publishers in the first decade of the twentieth century: the girls (or young women) are portrayed in a way that supposedly characterized their state, accompanied by other state symbols, and sometimes situated in representative settings. I became acquainted with these particular cards, which I have seen in both cigarette and postcard forms, through a flea market discovery of a Massachusetts girl, wearing academic dress while standing out on some North Shore rocky coast. This find occurred just several days after I received my Ph.D., and so this girl had a particular appeal to me: here I am, I thought, Scholar Girl, a Bay State Belle!

MA Girls Collage

As you can see, not all Massachusetts girls walked around in academic gowns, books in hand. The Raphael Tuck (on the rocks), Langsdorf (schoolmarmish) and National Art Company (sans glasses) girls do, but not those on the Platinachrome Company’s “alphabet” cards, which focus more on the letter and the state seal and flower, or the Fatima Turkish Cigarettes cards, which are all about the elaborate hats which adorn the heads of rather indistinct state girls. The ladies from all 45-48 states (depending on when these cards were published, and sometimes including the District of Columbia) get more detailed characterizations on some cards while on others they are simply idealized lovely-but-generic belles. Miss Pennsylvania is portrayed in colonial dress, armed with a musket and adorned with a tricorner hat, on the National Art Co. and Langsdorf cards below, while the “Keystone Belle” stands before the bustling factories of what I presume is Pittsburgh on the Tuck Card: the past and the present. Not yet quite a golden girl, Miss California is identified with her steamship and her oranges. The “Lone Star Girl” of Texas has her bluebonnets, and the “Opera Belle” of New York comes equipped with a skyscraper. There are girls equipped with fishing poles (Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon and Maine), swords (Maryland), paddles (Virginia), riding crops (New Jersey) and locomotives (Illinois), but the majority of young women are pictured with farming equipment or produce, a reflection of our then still-agrarian nation. A 21st century update on these cartophilic characterizations would be quite interesting.

PA State Girl Collage

State Girls CA collage

State Girls TX Collage

State Girls NY Collage

(Just click on the collages to enlarge)


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