Small vintage tobacco premium flag silk identified as that of German West Africa - Germany's West African colonial empire created in 1884 -distributed between 1911 and 1916 with Sovereign Cigarettes, as part of its popular Flags of the World series. Sovereign Cigarettes, made in New York, was one of several brands sold by the American Tobacco Company. This flag is labeled "German West Africa" next to the image. "Sovereign Cigarettes" is printed along the lower edge, and the factory number and location are printed along the top. SMALL flag silks measures 3" x 1".
This flag is a black fimbriated white-extended cross on a white background, with a smaller red extended cross inside, and a black German eagle in a red bordered yellow disc in the center. Each of the four quadrants is empty.
The accuracy of the identification of this flag as that of "German West Africa" is up in the air. Germany had apparently only two separate German West African protectorates - Togo and Cameroon - and never a separate administrative unit called "German West Africa". However, an otherwise almost identical flag - that of the "German West African Company" - also had the company's four initials (D.W.A.G) in black, with one in each quadrant of the white field. And although the version shown here - without initials - was found in an 1882 book identified as that of the "German Colonies West Africa", in fact Germany had no possessions in West Africa until 1884.
During the early 20th Century, American Tobacco Company was one of a number of cigarette companies that gave free silks, flannels or leather to customers who purchased their tobacco products. These textile items were distributed either as an "insert" (sometimes in an envelope, into the tobacco packaging, and sometimes attached to the outside) or as a "premium" (given away in exchange for coupons inserted in the packaging). The small 3" x 1" silks were usually distributed as inserts with the product. The larger silks were usually premiums given in exchange for coupons.
The cigarette "silk" was one of the most popular of the textile tobacco inserts or premiums. They were often beautifully polychrome printed, with a number of different themes. And although called "silks" they were actually made from a variety of fabrics such as silk or silk satin, a cloth combination of silk and cotton, a cotton sateen or even a plain woven cotton. Tobacco silks and flannels were often used by women to make quilts and other textile objects. (It is thought that distributing these textiles with tobacco products may have been a marketing strategy to entice women into smoking cigarettes.)
CONDITION NOTE: Tobacco silks often show their age. Since the borders of tobacco silks are almost never finished, they are usually frayed, and on some silks the name "Sovereign Cigarettes" and the factory information are partially, and sometimes completely, obliterated by fraying along the borders. This one is no exception. Although there is some fraying along the top and bottom borders, the lettering of the "Sovereign Cigarettes" is completely intact, while the factory and location information is only slightly impaired. There are also few slight wrinkles, which may disappear with a careful pressing on delicate setting. Areas of minor staining or fabric discoloration are much less noticeable in person than in this scanned image.
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