Tobacco Silks- Knox College

by Terry Hogan

I have been prowling antique stores, junk shops, and the like for decades, looking for the unexpected that I couldn’t live without. In more recent years, I have also focused on early stuff relating to Galesburg. I thought I was getting a pretty good feel of things. But once again, I was wrong.

I received a letter recently from a life-long friend who now lives in the Northwest. We both grew up at Lake Bracken. Included with the brief letter was a small, finely woven silk banner with the Knox College emblem. It was done in the Knox colors of a purple background with the name of the college and the emblem in gold. At the bottom appeared the text "Egyptienne Luxury". At the top was the additional information "Factory No. 7, 3rd District State N.Y." It was woven from silk and was remarkable well done.

In his letter, my friend explained that this was a promotional item (a "premium") produced circa 1910 by the Egyptienne Luxury brand of cigarette. Of course, I was immediately "hooked" and hat to search the Internet. It appears that the American Tobacco Company produced the Egyptienne Luxury brand. I also found that these, and similar items, are collected and bought and sold on the Internet. I saw prices ranging from $3 to $15 for the college banner "silks". Further, there were numerous other tobacco premiums produced in the early 1900s that are now collected.

The college banner silks were made for 100 different colleges, thus giving later collectors a reasonable challenge to find all 100. In addition to Knox College, Egyptienne Luxury also produced silks for Lombard, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Purdue. Dare I mention that Monmouth College was not among the elite 100 colleges selected for the honor?

Further searching revealed that the Egyptienne Luxury Cigarettes also featured a premium around 1912 that featured woven silk flowers. These silks depicted the state flowers of each state. The silk for Illinois, as pictured on the Internet, also was from Factory No. 7, 3rd District State N.Y.

I am constantly amazed at the uses, and sometimes abuses, that are found for the Internet. People who probably thought they were alone in collection some little relic of history now can find hundreds, if not thousands, of others who collect the same thing. I can almost feel the burden lighten from the shoulders of a collector of some arcane item when he finds others on the Internet who collect the same things. The finding provides affirmation that although he is perhaps a little eccentric; he now knows that he shares the eccentricity with others. The Internet also likely increases the value of the collectable as it develops a marketplace where the very small minority of folks spread about the country who collect a particular item can become closely affiliated to buy and sell. They are no longer hindered by geography or by the lack of scale that prohibits the publishing of books or catalogs. Such is the electronic marketplace.

Of course, I have no eccentric collection habits myself. I do admit that I haven’t found a lot of old "Lucky Boy Bakery" items for sale in the Galesburg area. I’m not sure whether these items are in such great demand that n one find their way into the marketplace, or whether (and I personally find this very hard to believe) I’m the only guy who is interested in this particular collection niche. In fairness, I should admit that there is an antique shop on East Main Street whose proprietor doesn’t know my name, but rather he knows me only as his "Lucky Boy Bakery guy" because I stop in and ask if he has any items when I’, back visiting Galesburg. These leads me to believe that he doesn’t get many inquiries about Lucky Boy Bakery items, or perhaps others are just too embarrassed to "come out of the closet" so to speak.

However, I shouldn’t poke fun at those collecto5rs of tobacco silk items. It is a bit of American history from when we though smoking was perfectly OK…at least for men. Besides, I really like the Knox silk, and I’m thinking a Lombard silk would make a nice addition.

Aug. 19, 2002