Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Breyer Promoted Smoking?

I’d thought that I had already discussed this topic here, but it appears I am mistaken. So here’s a slight rewrite of the article I wrote in my 2003 MGR Sampler about the Breyer Cigarette Host.

I don’t have color copies of the original photos: the Host itself is translucent tortoishell, the box it came in was light brown, and the cigarette labels are metallic gold. Also, the auction I refer to in the article was in November, 2002.

At the time I also assumed that the Cigarette Host predated the Money Manager, but they may well have been released simultaneously.

After the government contracts dried up after WWII, the Breyer Molding Company struggled to find proprietary products to supplement its business. One of these products they experimented with was the Cigarette Host, a miniature cigarette case/humidor. Resembling a miniature filing cabinet, and molded of swirly, imitation tortoiseshell, it was meant to hold an assortment of cigarettes. Each of the four drawers had pull tabs where labels of your favorite brands could be placed.

As you might have guessed, it didn’t sell well. It was neither particularly useful – each drawer could barely hold a dozen cigarettes – nor unique. Just like ashtrays, plastic cigarette cases were given away by local businesses as advertising novelties. Why buy a cigarette case at the dime store when your local bank or auto dealership was giving them away for free?

In an effort to recoup their investment – and to break into the emerging postwar toy market – the Cigarette Host was retooled and sold as a toy bank: the My Own Money Manager. The Money Manager, available in either “Flag Red” or “Forest Green”, met with marginally more success; it can be seen in early Breyer advertising, usually alongside the Western Horse. It even merited a full-page ad in the March 1952 issue of Playthings (tucked behind the Western Horse ad, of course.)

Once Breyer discovered the awesome selling power of plastic horses, however, the Money Manager was also doomed. An educational toy bank (with a booklet on the principles of money management!) simply can’t compete with a toy horse (with removable saddle!) I mean really, if you were an eight year old, wouldn’t the choice be obvious?

While we have plenty of documentary material about the Money Manager, the only evidence we had that the Cigarette Host actually existed (outside of Peter Stone’s brain) was the 1950 Sears Wishbook, where it was listed next to the Money Manager. (Yes, a child’s toy bank was listed next to a cigarette case: this was 1950, remember?) And that’s as far as our knowledge of this bit of history went, because no one actually owned an example.

Until now.

A Cigarette Host turned up in the one place where everything has (or will eventually) end up: eBay. It was listed, not illogically, in the Tobacciana category (smoking memorabilia). It was in the original box, complete with labels. I had to have it – not just for its historical value or rarity, but for an unbeatable collector’s class entry. (Test Colors? Decorators? Bah!) Luckily, I was the lone bidder, and it was mine for the princely sum of $1.99 – exactly 30 cents more than its original selling price in the Wishbook.

I was amazed to find it as small as it was advertised: just a little over 4 inches square. The most amazing thing to me was the fact that was embossed – not with the familiar round Breyer seal, but with the words BREYER MOLDING CO., CHICAGO, ILL., PAT PENDING, MADE IN U.S.A. (I haven’t had time to dig up the alleged patent, just yet.)

Further physical examination of the piece also reveals other reasons why the Cigarette Host wasn’t the success Breyer hoped it would be: it appears to be a rather complicated piece to assemble, and was probably not very profitable to make. And from the amount of warping and shrinking visible in my example (the drawers cannot be opened), we can guess another reason why we haven’t seen many (or any) others: after a few years of use, most of them probably ended up in the trash.

The most interesting thing about the Cigarette Host is how much it actually has in common with the plastic equines, aside from a common heritage. Both products promote two well-known products of Kentucky (horses and tobacco); they encourage addictive behaviors that drain your pocketbook; and in large quantities, are probably bad for you (in completely different ways, of course.) Unfortunately for us, they haven’t invented the “Breyer Patch” yet.


Denise said...

Thank you thank you thank you very much for your article on the "Cigarette Host"! And thanks for posting pictures!Had no idea how small it is! Also from the picture it looks similar to those metal file cabinets-although in plastic! Thanks for showing the mold marks too. Glad you got this item and for such a great price. Many thanks again!:)

Fenfox1 said...

Thank you for this post! I had never heard of either of them!