The habit of smoking or chewing tobacco and other mind-altering substances is timeless. For many centuries however, tobacco was unknown in Europe, as were many other plants, fruits, vegetables and goods including cocoa and its derivative, chocolate.
Like many other products from the so called New World, tobacco was seen with the same suspicion. But from some humble dried leaves in a clay pipe was born one of the largest industrial empires of our time - The tobacco industry.
It has also been proven however, that tobacco is toxic, dangerous and progressively reduces one's good health. Millions of people die each year as a result of tobacco consumption, making it the deadliest drug ever known.
But just a century ago, the impact of smoking on a person's health was hardly known or understood. To the contrary, it was even considered healthy to smoke by some back then.
This mentality and culture led tobacco manufacturers to redesign the format of their products as well as the packaging and external design. This to be more appealing to women as well as children. Collectable trading cards were duly inserted within cigarette packs as a further lure.
IMAGE NEW WORLD
DOCTOR'S SPECIAL IMAGE
CIGARETTE CARDS IMAGE
The industrial progress and economic boom of the late Victorian era made tobacco products and readily rolled cigarettes available everywhere and to everybody for the first time.
As the clocks spun forward, society started to learn about the dangers of smoking. This progression of knowledge led to an ongoing evolution of the cigarette box, reflecting the steps of change. A humble cigarette pack can serve as a primary example of the timeline defining how we were then and now, a journey of change over time.
From a lavish and alluring gold-fringed pack to the horrendous full-colour photo close-ups of cancerous limbs and organs.
One of the most successful, and possibly overlooked, sectors of Maltese industry during the first half of the 20th Century is the manufacture of tobacco and smoking products. Although several might have heard about a few of the more prolific companies, such as Cousis, Colombos & Licari, most people nowadays remain unaware of the relatively large number of local brands concerned with this trade. Even less known is the resulting variety and names of their products, now long gone from retailers' shelves and display cabinets.
Fading memories aside, detailed information about most of the firms and respective goods is also hard to come by. In researching our own collection, we found very little online information anywhere, beyond the odd photo of a cigarette pack or other, many a time offered for sale, and practically always with no details beyond "Vintage" or "Maltese", coupled at best with a transcript of the script on the pack. The only comprehensive attempt at defining the industry remains a 2005 publication by Anthony Zarb-Dimech, which gives a good basis, and makes an easy, interesting read. Certainly recommended as a guide to collectors and buffs, it provides most of the facts and fundamentals.
The survey does have some shortfalls however. The lack of some coloured plates and an index are two such detractions. The work also focuses on a number of better established brands and products, but is objectively rather limited when in comes to the rest. This is made clear by the author himself in stating that the work serves as a stub for further research and that much information is yet to come to light before any conclusive study and work is even possible.
We cannot but agree, and hence the absence of in-depth published or online material about Maltese tobacciana in general remains a challenge to history buffs and collectors, if not a hindrance when trying to establish the provenance and some background of examples within their interest or collections. This section of our virtual museum is intended to provide a framework of the industry based on both local and imported examples held within our archives.