Deleterious (de-lə-ˈtir-ē-əs): Harmful, Often in a Subtle or Unexpected Way
This Ogden’s cigarette card sought to prove smoking was harmless, even to children
If you’ve collected tobacco cards for any period of time, you probably know that most were packaged with cigarette products. Sure, ‘tobacco cards’ is generally the term used for any sort of trading card that was offered with a tobacco product, including other forms, such as scrap/loose tobacco, cigars, or chewing tobacco. But the vast majority were issued with cigarettes with the cards intending to serve as a stiffener inside of the package.
Smoking in the late 19th century and the earlier part of the 20th century wasn’t only viewed as largely harmless, but desirable. Many religious groups spoke against tobacco, as did others who weren’t so sure. But to many, smoking did not have the certain stigma that accompanies it today.
Tobacco companies tried to downplay that the products could be harmful. And in flipping through a binder of cards, I found a particularly interesting one about that very topic.
The Ogden’s Tabs cards (specifically, the General Interest series) are ones I am passionate about. I’ve got a few thousand of these suckers and they cover a wide range of subjects. They were packaged with Ogden’s cigarettes and the company issued a steady stream of cigarette cards from around 1900 through at least the 1930s.
Because I’ve got so many, they can often get lost in the shuffle. Sure, I could identify the major ones in my collection but many with lesser subjects often go unnoticed.
The General Interest series consists of 1,560 cards and as I’m building this set, I pulled out my binder of cards recently, which is roughly 2/3 of the massive set. In doing so, I stumbled upon a few interesting cards but one that really caught my eye was a virtual advertisement for Ogden’s Cigarettes.
The front pictures a young boy. It’s No. 196 in the difficult Series F subset and is titled as ‘1. The Imitation.’
If you’re familiar with the Ogden’s Tabs General Interest cards, you might know that if a number was alongside the title, it meant that there were more cards following of that particular subject or topic. Thus, I would expect this to be one of a few similar cards. It is worth noting that card No. 197 is titled, “The Real.” I have not seen this card but it is almost assuredly tied to this card dubbed, “The Imitation.”
At any rate, the card pictures a young boy, seated and barefoot. But most importantly, he is pictured smoking a cigarette. Said boy appears to be around the age of, say ten.
Disturbing image? By today’s standards, for sure. And even back then, keep in mind that one of the reason so many people derided the invention of cigarette cards was because they would lure children into smoking themselves. Smoking was seen as okay for adults but few would have approved of children smoking.
But images like this probably weren’t terribly uncommon, either. This set features a baseball trade card from the 19th century that depicts a young smoker. And the Lowney’s Just Kids set, a 1930s candy card set out of Canada, includes a card, titled ‘His First Cigar,’ showing a young child smoking. Those are just off the top of my head and surely others exist.
The idea of those two cards was really to show smoking as a negative. The trade card is really intended to show that anyone could grow up to be president — ‘even this ne’er-do-well!’ And the Lowney’s set largely centers around mischievous children. But that’s not what the Ogden’s card portrays.
The back of the card explains the logic.
Shown here, the back mentions states that, “There is no deleterious (harmful) matter in Ogden’s Cigarettes; they will not injure the weakest constitution.” Picturing the boy on the front, Ogden’s is apparently stating that cigarettes are not even harmful to young children. By the way, the title of this article with the deleterious definition comes from Merriam-Webster.