Cigarette labels as a history lesson

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Last of 2 parts

I WILL start with an erratum for last week’s column. The published column said: “Like what a historian should always do, Ocampo didn’t just dwell on the trivialities of designs and almost contextualized the importance of tobacco in our lives as a people. ” I was actually referring to lawyer Saul Hofileña, Jr. because I was citing the book he wrote, Vestments of the Golden Leaf: Cigarette labels during the Spanish and American colonial period in the Philippines, the source of this series. chronicles. The confusion arose because I mentioned another historian, Ambeth Ocampo, earlier in the column. This would explain why some readers in a large bookstore asked if they had “Ambeth Ocampo” Vestments of the Golden Leaf. I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused.

Again, Vestments of the Golden Leaf, written by Saul Hofileña, Jr., deals with the symbolism of various cigarette labels around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, which describes a period of transition for our people and illustrates the nascent history or the birth of our nation. Hofileña’s obsession with symbols eventually led him to create ideas for works of art made with Guy Custodio that allegorically tell the story of Spanish colonization, pieces that were featured in two exhibitions of the National Museum a few years after writing the book, but that’s another story.

One thing Hofileña noted was a rule established by Spanish authorities that cigarette labels should reflect the place names of cigar makers, although many of them were actually from the Cagayan Valley. There is basically no significant difference in the taste of different cigars, but each place name reflects a proud tradition and a piece of our economic history. The book features various addresses from Binondo, the rest of Manila, Bulacan and Pampanga. The information on the label included the brand or registered trademark, the tax imposed (tarifa), the cut of the cigarette (inciso) – which can be ordinary, short or extra-long – the valuation or estimate (tasación ), the number of sticks per pack, description of “entre fuerte”, which means that it has a bold and strong taste, the owner of the plant and his address, among others.

In the past, artwork on cigarettes had to be submitted to Spanish colonial authorities, but many labels did not bear the names of the printers, which would have helped trace the provenance of this interesting genre. However, Hofileña was able to find one of the designers: “Artists like Guillermo Partier, illustrator, lithographer, owner of the Imprenta Litogáfica Partier, which he created around October 1892, rushed their creations to meet the deadlines set by cigarette manufacturers. multitudes of Filipinos smoked, manufacturers rushed to package their rolled tobacco, and artists tried to outdo themselves in their creations. National heroes were used in the illustrations. Women and even babies have not been spared. The churches were not sacred. Even the cross and crucifix, symbols of faith, have been used to attract the die-hard smoker. “

As stated, due to the consistency of the product, exceptional artwork made the difference.

Late Spanish Colonial cigarette labels featured rural scenes and women dressed in Philippiniana and designs glorifying Spain. There is even one called “La Cubana”, describing the sinking in Havana harbor of the US Navy ship Maine that started the Spanish-American War of 1898, which Hofileña found intriguing. There is one called “Katimawan”, the word for kalayaan before this last word was invented, although it has already changed meaning for someone poor.

A popular design was the face of our national hero José Rizal. Besides his portrait, he is depicted enjoying a cigar (even if he has not smoked) in the company of women and other heroes. One mark, “La Asemblea”, alludes to the opening of the Philippine Assembly in 1907. According to Hofileña, “Some labels bore the emblem of Katipunan (the secret society founded by Andres Bonifacio in 1892 [to] overthrow Spanish colonial rule), but this cannot be used to justify the conclusion that some cigarette companies are seditiously stoking the flames of nationalism. In fact, most of the makers responsible for these designs were Chinese, most of whom lacked patriotic feelings. The sole purpose of the designs was to attract more buyers and smokers, nothing else. The battle for greater market share was never-ending, especially since the tobacco used by fiercely competing brands came from a single source. “

While it can be argued that there may have been businessmen who were genuinely Katipunan sympathizers like Roman Ongpin, whether or not constrained by nationalism, manufacturers who wanted to be relevant to their consumers reflected the places, events and people that were important. for us. They have now become snapshots where we can look at the era of our heroes.


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