What started out as novelty prizes given away with packs of cigarettes became scraps of fabric people collected and sewed together to create everything from quilts to clothing.
Originally organized in 1999, "Better Choose Me: Collecting and Creating with Tobacco Fabric Novelties, 1880-1920" features items made from cigar ribbons, cigarette silkies and tobacco flannels in an exhibit that runs from Aug. 22 through Jan. 20, 2019 at Kauffman Museum in North Newton.
The exhibit is made up of items collected by the late Ethel Ewert Abrahams, whose research on tobacco novelties wth former Kauffman Museum director Rachel Pannabecker was published in the American Quilt Study Group journal "Uncoverings 2000."
Tobacco companies used silk ribbons to tie bundles of cigars together beginning in the late 19th century. These ribbons, most often made in shades of yellow and orange, had the company's logo and slogans printed on them in black or red ink.
"Women would collect these and then sewed them together," explained Renae Stucky, collections manager at Kauffman Museum.
Quilters collected the ribbons to piece together, sometimes accenting their designs with other fabrics.
"There are a lot of quilt exhibits," said David Kreider, museum technician. "This is a quilt exhibit with a kick — a nicotine kick."
The practice became so common that popular magazines of the day gave examples of quilting designs for pillows that could be created with the cigar ribbons. It took hundreds of ribbons to create a quilt that would cover a bed.
"It started with the ribbons but eventually expanded into collectibles," Stucky added.
Cigarette companies began competing for customers by offering series of collectible squares of fabric that depicted images of flowers, cartoon characters, flags, presidents, butterflies and baseball players.
Using a needle and thread, women would turn the silk or flannel squares into table covers, pillows, children's playthings or even — as shown in the "Better Choose Me" exhibit — a patchwork outfit.
"You could wear it to a party and you'd be noticed," Kreider laughed.
There is a folk art aspect to the creations highlighted seen in "Better Choose Me."
"It's beautiful," Stucky said. "...It's also showing the handiwork and the creativity of the people who purchased them in how they used them."
The collection also shows how tobacco companies were using mass marketing to attract and retain customers — something that became much harder with the start of World War I.
"A lot of the popular tobacco was from Turkey and when the war started, it was hard to get tobacco from Turkey so the prices went up," Stucky explained. "There were also new types of advertising; they were trying to reach a broader audience with different tactics."
"Better Choose Me" has been shown at several museums around Kansas and has also been displayed in other states and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The name of the exhibit comes from a slogan that was printed on a cigar ribbon.
"This museum, in the last 20 years, we've done quite a few traveling exhibits," Kreider said. "...This is one that's traveled and now we're re-showing it."
The theme for Kauffman Museum's exhibits during the 2018-19 school year is "Connecting to Collecting" and an exhibit of Robert S. Kreider's collection of posters from the Chinese cultural revolution will open on Feb. 9, 2019.
There will be an opening come-and-go reception for "Better Choose Me" from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at Kauffman Museum, 2801 N. Main St. in North Newton.
Pannabecker will present the program "Remembering Ethel Ewert Abrahams: Collector and Artist" on Jan. 6, 2019.
Kauffman Museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for children ages 6 to 16.
For more information, visit https://kauffman.bethelks.edu/ or call 316-283-1612.