In 1942-1953, the Cleveland Public Library acquired a book collection from Robert Hays Gries (1900-1966), a prominent Cleveland business executive, philanthropist, and collector of art objects and books. For thirty years Gries methodically built his private library of rare and unusual publications on tobacco with the help of the Cleveland rare book dealer Peter Keisogloff, intending eventually to donate it to the Cleveland Public Library. These gifts constituted one of the largest book collections in the United States on tobacco history, lore and customs. Containing over one thousand titles, which date from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, it is one of the most important collections of its kind, second only to the New York Public Library’s notable Arents collection.
Along with the book gifts came various curious tobacco-related items such as printed documents, pamplets and manuscripts, ephemeral materials such as tax licenses, cigarette cards, and tobacco jars from Continental Europe, England, and the Americas. The staff of the Special Collections Department (initially called the John G. White Collection and later the John G. White Department of Folklore, Orientalia and Chess), continued to purchase items on smoking lore and customs until the 1970s, when funds were depleted. For many years, these materials were tucked away unprocessed in vertical files; but – under the title “The Gries Tobacco Printed Works, Manuscripts and Artifacts Collection: – they finally have been processed and soon they will be available for research through the OhioLink EAD Finding Aid Repository.
The Gries Tobacco Printed Works, Manuscripts and Artifacts Collection spans the years 1694-1973, with the bulk of the items dating from the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries. The sheer variety of the material is vast, including both paper-based materials and artifacts. For example, the Collection holds various publications dated 1719-1938, such as British parliamentary papers, French legal documents, and anti-tobacco publications. There are also anti-opium posters in Chinese and anti-narcotics publications, as well as a map of Mexico showing the distribution of tobacco and coffee cultivation. The Collection also includes manuscripts related to tobacco manufacture and trade, with colonial manuscript orders dated 1784-1787. There are tobacco shipment documents that comprise both handwritten freight receipts for tobacco merchandise and bills of lading on printed billheads from the Civil War era. The Collection also includes American Special Tax stamps, or licenses, for manufacturing tobacco dated from 1873 to 1890. The collection’s graphic works comprise prints and tobacco-related product ephemera (1880-1930). Of special interest are European prints from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth century, and collections of cigar bands and Sweet Caporal Cigarette cards dated 1880-1915. The artifacts portion of the Collection holds old European tobacco jars, a smoker’s wall cabinet, and cigarette boxes manufactured by tobacco companies based in Haifa in the 1920s. This remarkable collection is important not only for the study of the history and the socio-economic implications of tobacco. Its numerous items also serve as primary sources for a multitude of research topics and fields, including political and social activity, industrial relations, American Studies, graphic design, the history of printing and advertising, and general cultural history.
Some of the Collection’s highlights include:
The Collection holds sixty tobacco shipping documents. These are handwritten freight receipts for tobacco merchandise on simple pieces of paper and bills of lading on printed billheads. All these documents come from the Civil War era and are dated 1864-1866. The series provides detailed information about shipping parties, places and people involved in the process of shipping tobacco. The majority of the shipment documents have tax date stamps that read “2 cent Washington US Inter. Rev.” Most of the freight receipts and lading bills in the series are manuscripts on printed billheads. The billheads are decorative engravings depicting freight trains or ships at sea. Displayed here is a 1865 bill of lading featuring the carrier “The Star Union Line,” operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The bill of lading is printed in two colors, red and blue.
One unusual print, “Signiour Bobbadilli Puntado Cavalliro Puff or the Proud Vapouring Spaniard,” is an English caricature of a Spaniard smoking a pipe. (The item is undated, but most likely is from the mid-seventeenth century.) There is only one other known copy of this peculiar engraving, which is held by the New York Public Library’s Arents Tobacco Collection. This satirical print depicts a smoking Spaniard with a vapour coming out of his rear end. The mocking tone of the drawing reflects the attitude held by the British towards the Spaniards who were not only at war with them, but also in fierce competition over trading in the Americas.
Another fine print in the Collection is an undated old German engraving bearing a sign ‘Des KÖnigs in Spaniern Geschenk.’ It depicts a pack train of horses being loaded with boxes of snuff and chocolate and has twelve lines of text beneath the image.
Of particular interest are the Collection’s five Omar Cigarettes adverising posters by American Tobacco Company. This 1912 Omar Cigarettes advertisement from the magazine Sunset: the Pacific Monthly, is the earliest known design of its kind that features Omar, depicted as a sultan, in a fantasy setting with a beautiful female companion. It is done in the style of the Hungarian-born American illustrator Willy Pogány. A couplet from Omar Khayyám’s The Rubáiyát appears in a banner below the scene: “Yon rising Moon that looks for us again / How oft hereafter will she wax and wane.”
The poster is remarkable from the point of view of both aesthetics and social history. The marketing of American Tobacco’s Omar cigarettes employed appeal to consumers through visual and literary connections to The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. The poems of The Rubáiyát enjoyed enormous popularity in the United States during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Advertisers of tobacco products drew on themes of Khayyám’s praise for worldly pleasures. The American Tobacco Company’s advertisements for Omar brand cigarettes describe the superior qualities of the product, although the cigarettes were in fact made from a lower grade leaf blend of Turkish and American leaf that was grown mainly in Virginia and North Carolina. Omar advertisements were often reproduced at a small cost as posters to be hung in the home.
The Collection also contains sheet music with art covers, dated 1907-1930. Sheet music is a valuable primary source both for its musical and visual contexts. The visual elements on the pictorial covers provide important historical information that can contribute to our understanding of the cultural environment and artistic sensibilities of the period in which the music was produced. The music score of Albert Von Tilzer’s song “Put on Your Slippers and Fill up your Pipe” was published by Broadway Music Corporation in New York in 1916, with cover art by Andre De Takacs.