National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

Cigarette Silks – Military Textiles Collection

By Sue Stevens, Assistant Curator Textiles

WWI Cigarette SilkYou might very well ask “What is a Cigarette Silk?” I know I did when I came across them in the Textiles Collection. My initial thought was they were small fundraising ‘silks’ sold for the Patriotic War funds. Previously, I had never heard or ever seen one! So I was off to see what I could discover, and discover I did!

A Cigarette Silk is a small piece of printed (or woven) satin (almost never silk) given away free inside yesteryear’s cigarette packets as a marketing ploy.

There was an assortment of subject matter and they had silk ‘issues’ depicting animals, flowers, motor cars, and railways. The list was endless, but with the outbreak of World War I; Military Badges, Regimental Colours, Uniforms, Medals, Flags, and War Heroes became all the rage, especially with male smokers.

As tobacco smoking became more popular, especially among women, tobacco companies could exploit the buying power of women. Women were eager to obtain these popular and colourful printed silks and would often use them in sewing. Some tobacco companies included instructions for making household items with their silks. These cigarette silks were not only used to make quilts but they were also included in some crazy quilts.

After World War I there were fewer issues of cigarette silks and unfortunately for the smoker, by 1922 the practice of cigarette silks was all but gone apart from a brief resurgence in the 1930’s.

Check out our Blog for the stories behind some of our other interesting museum artefacts.