Over a century ago the tobacco industry in the United States was immense. Tobacco products included cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, and snuff. Tobacco was not only grown domestically, but was imported from suppliers in the Caribbean, Turkey, the Philippines, and many other nations. The industry was not only vast, it was highly controlled through trusts led by a few extremely powerful “robber barons” of the day. Under the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, these trusts were deemed to be in violation of federal laws designed to promote fair trade. Roosevelt acquired the reputation of fighting corporate corruption by being a “trust buster.” Tobacco, along with many other industries, was forced to break apart their conglomerates into subsidiaries.
As such, in 1901 the American Tobacco Company (ATC) created a subsidiary, the American Cigar Company (ACC). ATC controlled 92% of the cigarette market, but ACC controlled only 14% of the cigar market. The tobacco industry was both innovative and aggressive in finding new ways to market its products. The inclusion of baseball cards in packs of cigarettes became a convenient and effective way to increase the sale of cigarettes. The relationship between baseball cards and cigarettes has been well documented through scholarly analyses, including possible reasons for the scarcity of the Honus Wagner card in the T-206 series. The relationship between baseball pinback buttons and tobacco products has not been nearly as well researched.
Many different sets of baseball cards were issued that advertised tobacco products. Individual baseball pinback buttons have turned up in the hobby that promoted a tobacco product. But baseball pinbacks issued in sets that promoted a tobacco product are limited to three. The first was a 16-pin set issued in 1904 celebrating the World Champion Boston Americans (Red Sox) of 1903. The pin proclaims the featured player “endorses the cigar makers blue label.” The size of the set is known (16), as is the identity of each player in the set (one featured player is Cy Young). The diameter of the pin is 1.50” (an unusual diameter for baseball pins). While exceedingly rare, the pins are not aesthetically appealing. The picture of each player is extremely small (about 1/8”), and the “blue label,” upon being reduced in size to be shown on the pin, contains words that are indecipherable. The pinmaker seemingly was ineffectual in dissuading the buyer from using this unattractive design. It is unknown how these pins were distributed.
The second set of baseball pinbacks is iconic. Issued over a two-year period (1910-1911), this set contains 204 pins. Players from all 16 Major League teams are featured, with teams that recently appeared in the World Series (i.e., Cubs, Athletics, Tigers, Giants, and Pirates) having the greatest representation of players. The pins were distributed in packs of Sweet Caporal cigarettes, as denoted by the back paper on each pin. The number of pins in the set is known (204), as is the identity of each player.
The third set of tobacco-related baseball pinbacks is among the most arcane, rivaled only by a set of pins promoting the Schmelzer’s Sporting Goods Company. So little is known about these pins, it is uncertain as to how many pins comprise each set and the identity of the players. The Schmelzer set likely has nine pins, because eight other pins have surfaced with each presenting a player in one position. There is no known pin of the second base position, and his likely identity is sheer speculation. [Update] Robert Edward Auctions announced a lot in its upcoming auction that features the ninth pin: the second base player is Johnny Evers. Additionally the lot includes a tenth pin, that of George Stallings as manager. This set was assumed to have been issued “circa 1910.” Now an exact date is established: 1915. Stallings was the manager of the 1914 Boston Braves that went from last place to winning the National League pennant, and then sweeping the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series. Stallings got the nickname “The Miracle Man.” 1914 was his only year of prominence as a manager in baseball, and the most unlikely choice to be honored with a pin as manager for any year except following the 1914 season.
But the grand prize for being inscrutable goes to a set known as the Luxello Cigar pin set. This set features players on both the Athletics and Phillies of 1910. I was so intrigued with this set I made it the object of my first column in this blog. For many years the hobby thought the set consisted of 21 pins. Then a few more surfaced. As described in my first column, I think the set has 26 pins (8 position players and 5 pitchers, per team). However, I am unsure of the identity of the center-fielder for the Phillies. [If you would like to learn more about this fascinating set, I suggest you read my first column.]
It is difficult to describe how incredibly different this set of baseball pins is to every other known set of pins. They are 7/8” in diameter, and were made by the Parisian Novelty Company of Chicago. There the similarity to all other baseball pins ends. Here are two of the pins.
It is evident the pins were designed to convey richness, sumptuous elegance, and a level of social refinement one might associate with polo, not baseball. On each side of the pin is a monogram consisting of the letter L in an interlocking pattern of three different styles of script font. Each monogram is nested within a horseshoe that clearly reveals eight nail holes. At the 3:00 and 9:00 positions appear a most graceful and stylish curved design. If not pictured in their uniform, the players appear wearing a high-fashion suit. The names of the players not only include their first name, but also stylistic abbreviations. For example, Wm. Heitmiller, Chas. S. Dooin, and Geo. McQuillan. The message is very clear. The maker of Luxello cigars projected a marketing image that the smokers of its brand had aristocratic tastes.
But who was the maker of Luxello cigars? If you Google “Luxello cigars” you will not find very much. I was forced to believe that more ads must have been placed for Luxello cigars, but they appeared in sources outside of the data base that Google covers. I found such a data base, and located 14 more ads for Luxello cigars. Most of the ads were similar to each other, and most were placed in North Carolina newspapers. As such, I thought Luxello cigars were most likely made in North Carolina. But one ad was different from all the rest. It showed an image of a single Luxello cigar. It revealed that one of my speculations about the cigar expressed in my first column was wrong. The ad showed a horse shoe on the cigar label. In my previous column I speculated the horse shoes were a symbol of good luck, and their presence on the Luxello pins was a gesture of good luck to both the Athletics and the Phillies. In fact, the horse shoe was part of the image of the Luxello cigar brand. Horse shoes are symbolic of horse racing, the sport of kings. Again, the brand pitched the image of aristocracy.
The word “Luxello” is linguistically referred to as a portmanteau: a synthetic word that does not really exist. The root part of the word is “lux” from which “luxury” and “luxurious” are based. The suffix “ello” is of Italian origin, meaning something small and also something that is adored. It is masculine; the feminine counterpart is “ella,” as in Cinderella. The name “Luxello cigar” thus connotes a small cigar that a male smoker would treasure. There are other words that connote something small and endearing. I did not understand why a synthetic word had to be created. Maybe it was because “Luxello” was not likely to be confused with another brand. The fact that the monogram was three interlocking L’s (Luxello Luxello Luxello) seemed a bit of over-indulgence to me.
While I found all this information to be intriguing, in truth I was no closer to establishing the maker of Luxello cigars than I was before. So I decided to dig deeper into the tobacco industry. The sheer size of the tobacco industry was beyond comprehension. Since the Luxello cigar pins were made in 1910, here are some statistics about tobacco production and consumption from that approximate year. In 1911, statistically every man, woman, and child in the United States annually smoked 78 cigars and 108 cigarettes, chewed 2 & ½ pounds of chaw, smoked 1& ¾ pounds of pipe tobacco, and dipped 1/3 of a pound of snuff. Thirty years later only two numbers had changed: cigar consumption was down to 45 and cigarette consumption was up to 1,500 per year. In 1912, of the 8 billion, 500 million cigars made in the United States that year, nearly half were made in NY (mostly in Manhattan) and PA. My plan of using the Luxello brand to identify the maker was met with the most disheartening statistic: there were over seven million different brands of cigars! The numbers were truly staggering. I felt that I would probably never know the maker of Luxello cigars, and thus never solve the mystery of the Luxello cigar pins.
It then occurred to me that if I had any hope of finding the maker, I should not expand my search area, but narrow it. Searching for old newspaper ads made little sense. Marketers seek to sell desirable products to customers, not necessarily reveal their maker. If I wanted to find the maker, I would have to analyze tobacco industry publications or perhaps federal government documents pertaining to the chartering of cigar makers. With the help of a tobacco industry archivist, I got some great leads on where to look. I knew the date (1910) of the pins, and I knew the brand (Luxello). I got very lucky. I found an announcement for Luxello cigars in a tobacco trade publication. It was the proverbial “Rosetta stone” for solving the mystery of the Luxello cigar pins. And as a bonus, it led to solving another baseball pinback mystery that had bothered me for a long time. Here is the announcement:
Talks on Luxurious Luxello
We have taken space in THE TOBACCO WORLD to present to the trade from a new and different angle the merits of Luxello cigars.
In this age of competition the English vocabulary has been exhausted in making high sounding claims. Every brand of nickel cigars is naturally the “best.”
In this series of talks we propose to present the claims which we make for the “Luxello.”
Mr. Dealer, We Leave It Up to You
Read, then investigate, the “Luxello” for yourself. “Luxellos” are built on faith that giving the best possible value is the one way to build and maintain a business.
Luckett Luchs & Lipscomb
Rarely have so few words been of such great diagnostic value in the pinback hobby. Among the primary findings that this information led to was:
- The three interlocking L’s monogram was not for Luxello Luxello Luxello, but for Luckett Luchs and Lipscomb.
- They created a synthetic name (Luxello) for the brand that was an alliterative match with Luckett Luchs and Lipscomb.
- The company was not based in North Carolina, but in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- The Luxello cigar originally cost 5 cents. The brand ran for at least 30 years. In 1940 you could purchase a box of 50 Luxello cigars for 87 cents.
- Luckett Luchs and Lipscomb received their business charter on August 11, 1909. They shortly thereafter decided to promote their company through the Luxello cigar pins, which came out about six months later before the start of the 1910 season.
- What good fortune that one of the two teams their pins promoted would go on to become World Champions that year, providing even greater recognition of their brand.
- “Luckett” was W.S. Luckett, a powerful player in the cigar business. Originally he was out of Kentucky. He was on the Board of Directors of the American Cigar Company in 1909, the same year he founded Luckett Luchs and Lipscomb. In 1902 he was stationed in southern Virginia running a tobacco operation. He would go on to get several patents related to the tobacco industry.
- “Luchs” was Monroe Luchs, the man within the company who was in charge of finances. He was not a tobacco man. Within 15 years he was the head finance man of a New York based company that had nothing to do with tobacco.
- “Lipscomb” has not been positively identified, but most likely he is W.T. Lipscomb of Durham, North Carolina. There was another Lipscomb active in the tobacco industry at the time who was from South Carolina. The role Lipscomb filled in the company appeared to be the operational or “hands-on” director of tobacco production.
- The corporate headquarters of Luckett Luchs and Lipscomb was located at 710 Bulletin Building in downtown Philadelphia, and its primary production facility was in Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania.
Why did Luckett Luchs and Lipscomb chose the Parisian Novelty Company in Chicago to make these visually stunning baseball pins? Most certainly Philadelphia had pinmaking companies as well at the time. Furthermore, they made some very beautiful pins celebrating the 1910, 1911, and 1913 World Champion Philadelphia Athletic teams. Indeed they did, but the Luxello pins were ordered for production prior to the 1910 season. As such, maybe Luckett Luchs and Lipscomp had no reason to be aware of the local pinmakers, especially since the tobacco company demanded a design reflecting elegant richness never before witnessed in a baseball pin.
At the conclusion of my first column on the Luxello pins, I closed with the comment that, “The past is reluctant to give up its secrets.” The secrets of the Luxello pins had been in hiding for 105 years. It is with great delight that these secrets have finally been revealed, and the hobby can both understand and enjoy the story behind these majestic pins.
Do you see something “wrong” or peculiar about it? This item unsettled me for the longest time. It is one of three such mirrors celebrating the 1910 World Champion Philadelphia Athletics. One of them advertises a pawn shop. In Philadelphia. Another one advertises a car dealership. In Philadelphia. This one advertises a drug store. In Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Philadelphia is 475 miles from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Why would the Owens Drug Store in Winston-Salem, North Carolina be featured on an advertising mirror celebrating the 1910 Philadelphia Athletics? It never made any sense to me. But thanks to Mr. Luckett, two mysteries can be solved at once. As noted, W.J. Luckett was from an old tobacco family in Kentucky. Another tobacco family from Kentucky was named Brame. In one government document no less than ten different members of the Brame family are reported as officers in various tobacco companies in Kentucky. Most assuredly Mr. Luckett was familiar with the Brame clan from his home state. Records show that some of the Brames moved to southern Virginia.
In 1876 one of the Brames in Virginia, a “P.J. Brame,” got married and eventually moved to Wilksboro, North Carolina. He was not in the tobacco business. He was a pharmacist. He and his wife eventually moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Historical records indicate that on January 25, 1910, P.J. Brame opened the Owens Drug Store. Brame was both the president of the enterprise as well as the head pharmacist. I don’t know if W.J. Luckett and P.J. Brame ever met. If they did, it was probably when Luckett was working in southern Virginia. I believe the word got around that throughout 1910 Luckett promoted his cigar company through his Luxello baseball pins. Maybe these pins stimulated sales of the Luxello cigars, or maybe Luckett thought they did, or maybe he just said they did. Luckett likely told one of the tobacco Brame clan about his latest method of promoting his new business. One of the Brames, in turn, likely informed his kin, P.J. Brame, the pharmacist, who just opened a new business himself, about the marketing potential of the Philadelphia Athletics baseball team. But now it is the 1910 World Champion Philadelphia Athletics. P.J. Brame probably said he knew nothing about baseball pins or mirrors, let alone using them to promote his new business. In turn, P.J. Brame was likely advised not to worry, as two such mirrors already existed; one for a pawn shop and another one for a car dealership. His advertising mirror would simply be the third of its type. He might well have been skeptical of the mirror’s potential to stimulate sales of medicine and fountain drinks. P.J. Brame was then likely reminded of another product that he sold which was undoubtedly popular with his customers. Look at the Owens Drug Store mirror again. Between the two products that are listed on the mirror, which one is listed first (and in a slightly bolder and different font)? A coincidence, maybe. But I doubt it. Such is my best explanation of how the 1910 World Champion Philadelphia Athletics wound up promoting the Owens Drug Store in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.