Picky smokers and their first editions

Here we have a couple of guys who are very particular about their first editions, so declares the ad copy in the vintage magazine advertisement below. Their discriminating tastes, we learn by reading further, extend to their cigarettes, particularly the British brands Three Castles and Passing Clouds made by W.D. & H.O. Wills.

Their pickiness, however, does not seem to extend to the handling of their first editions, as they are exposing these volumes to smoke damage and odor, as well as risking burn marks from their cigarettes' ashes.

I'm intrigued with the way ad campaigns have used rare books and bibliophiles in the past (haven't seen any in the present) to sell unrelated products. From the few ads I've collected from that earlier era, the relationship they tried to convey seems humorous, even ridiculous, by current-day standards, but in the first half of the 20th century, rare books appear to have held a much higher status for discriminating consumers than they do today.

The ads I've featured here and here in the past were amusing in their use of rare books for hawking cars and whisky. This one seems ridiculous, at least by today's standards. I seriously doubt you'd catch a couple of rare book collectors today examining a valuable book with cigarettes dangling in harm's way.

The culture has changed for sure, with respect to cigarette smoking, but didn't bookmen back in the day understand the consequences and risk of juggling rare books and cigarettes at the same time? Or was this just an ad agency's misguided vision of how a couple of connoisseurs might interact with vellum bound incunabula and other rarities?

But I recall a photograph of some important bibliophiles where a similar thing was happening as in this ad, only this event included tobacco and alcohol. I mentioned incunabula because the photograph was of a famous specialist in the field, who was hosting a party in one of his book rooms with cocktails and cigarettes among the rarities. That specialist was none other than Hans P. Kraus and the book with the photograph was his autobiography: A Rare Book Saga.

Perhaps this photo vindicates the ad company that produced the piece above. Perhaps there was a more relaxed attitude with certain social customs of the day. But around the stock that Kraus carried? I don't get that, but I still think the cigarette ad is amusing for the comically risky behavior of the purported knuckleheads bibliophiles, who are so particular about their first editions.


  1. oh please, don't be so prissy. People smoked before without any second thought. No one knew the damage the smoke caused, and no one complained about the smell, except for perhaps asthmatics and neurasthenics.

    if anyone had burnt a book or used one as a coaster for their drink, i'm sure Kraus would've billed them for it, and they could have easily paid

  2. Dear Anonymous: First, let's not drag the neurasthenics into this--they have enough problems. Second, "people smoked before without any second thought" because they were selfish and/or controlled by an addictive substance. I know because I was one of them many years ago--selfish at times with a nasty, addictive habit. Reformed smokers such as myself sometimes come across as "prissy" (prissy?) because we know the difference, having been on both sides of the smoking fence. You have a valid point, though, that people in general accepted smoking and didn't complain. I know--I grew up around it. But c'mon... somebody holds a burning ash over your rare, high-dollar book back then and it would have been okay? And do you think Kraus would have invited to his rare book room someone who would actually use a rare book as a coaster? Perhaps you're being sarcastic, as was I with this ad. It was merely an attempt at humor, playing on the contrast between today's socially acceptable behavior and that of a bygone era and how advertisers used books to sell products (something I don't think they do today). It didn't work for you. Maybe nobody else either. You win some, you lose some. But Kraus would not have lost anything on his book-coaster. I think he would have gone to his insurance agent before billing the dumbass that committed such an atrocity. Hey, thanks for dropping by and taking the time to read. Appreciate all comments (except those from the Viagra spammers).

  3. for my grand-parents and parents generations and, to a lesser extent, for my own, the library was the place where one went to smoke. the whole atmosphere of the place was about leather, vellum, morocco and cigarettes or, better still, pipes and cigars. i don't doubt some of those books were valuable. but i just don't remember fire or smoke damage ever being an issue. port and cigars were served in the library. period. what is an issue is why messrs w.d. and h.o. wills are seemingly trying to promote two brands simultaneously, of itself a very strange tactic, as being equally for the same kind of person and equally as good a smoke. no wonder both brands disappeared in the late seventies. i smoked passing cloud myself in my byronic poseur days.

  4. Ah, cigars. Just enjoyed a nice Arturo Fuente Gran Reserva last night with a Cabernet or three. But it wasn't anywhere near my books, nor anywhere inside the house. Attitudes toward smoking have changed. Maybe not in Belgium and the rest of Europe so much, but they have here in the USA. Growing up, I spent many a summer vacation evening in my grandparents' New England library playing cribbage with my grandfather. He smoked cigars. Incessantly. And the books of my great- and great-great-grandparents were no doubt aromatically altered. But my grandfather never positioned his ash over them as does the gent in the ad above. And your point about not remembering fire or smoke damage ever being an issue rings true. It just wasn't an issue. Nor was second-hand smoke for others in the room. Now, that fond memory of my childhood transported into 2011 would likely include interruptions in the card game for a smoke. Outside. Back to the ad... While not familiar with Passing Cloud and Three Castles (Marlboro was my brand), I can appreciate your wry assessment of the real issue in this ad.


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