If you have a Civil War item that you can't identify or something you want to know the value of, contact John (mail: Box 510, Acworth, GA 30101; email John at seantiquing@go-star.com with Civil War in the subject line or call 770-329-4984 or 770-974-6495). John needs a good description of the item, condition, manufacturer's marks and any other markings, and photos. Please Note: All questions MUST be accompanied with a Photo, it should not be more than 200k in file size.

John, I spoke with you on the phone regarding little history booklets I have in my possession. From what I can tell, these booklets were placed in Duke cigarette packs in the late 1800s. I have also attached a word document listing all in the collection.

These were found in my father-in-law’s estate; he recently passed. I do not know who handed them down to him as they were produced some 40 years before he was born. There are histories of generals, admirals and famous people, such as Edgar Allen Poe and Mark Twain.

I am interested in their history as well as their current value, given that they are in fair condition at best. Any information you can provide is greatly appreciated. Thank you. –Karl

JS: Your Duke tobacco premiums date from the 1890s and are part of a long series of "collectible" cards of many types given as incentives for purchase of their brand of cigarettes. Duke sold just over 7 million cigarettes in 1882; by the late 1880s, the Duke Company was producing 4 million cigarettes daily, becoming the largest producer of its day, and advertising helped.

The tobacco companies used trade cards, tin tags and posters to advertise their products. Color lithography developed in the late 1870s, and businesses could then promote themselves with a variety of attractive, colorful images, some having nothing at all to do with any of their products.

Duke tobacco cards of Civil War generals and other notables, 66 in the collection, $500-$1,000; shown are Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and General James Longstreet.

James B. “Buck” Duke

Taking advantage of the development of color, James B. Duke revealed his marketing talent with the creation of a whole new way of advertising tobacco and cigarettes. With each pack of cigarettes, a small cardboard insert was added to stiffen the box. Duke employed a little imagination and turned these simple workhorses into a powerful marketing tool by printing the brand name of the cigarettes along with a picture that was part of a series and which was meant to be collected. The cards included series of: birds; flags of the world; baseball players; "actresses" in revealing costumes; governors; world leaders; shadows (a popular series showing shadows cast in unusual shapes from common items or people); and many other items. Often, these had historical or educational information on them, along with an advertisement for Duke cigarettes.

These advertising cards exceeded all expectations in their popularity among the public and are readily available and collected today. The most valuable of these cards are baseball players. When in good condition, they sell for minimums over $100 each and often, many thousands of dollars.

Civil War generals, which your cards mostly portray, are seen on the market from time to time. I don't recall how many are in the series, but you seem to have most of them among your 66 cards. Individual Civil War generals’ cards have sold on various auctions over the past few years for between $10 and $40 each, with three recent Confederate General cards selling as a set on eBay for $57 ($19 each).

Duke also made a folio book that held each of these Civil War generals’ cards, and over the years, I remember seeing a couple offered at Civil War shows complete. I could not find a recent auction of such a book, but I think I remember them priced between $1,000 and $1,500. I did find one specialty dealer (Murray Cards, UK) offering a collection of 50 Civil War generals’ "Duke Cigarette" cards for sale for £2000.

If you want to sell your set of cards, eBay would probably be a good venue, as would several specialty auction houses who sell ephemera. My guess is your group of 66 cards should have a presale estimate of $500-$1,000, and they would sell in that range or more.

Background history. James Buchanan (“Buck”) Duke was born near Durham, N.C., on Dec. 23, 1856. His father owned a tobacco company, which he and his brother later ran. After Duke purchased a license to use the first cigarette-rolling machine, he soon dominated the market.

He and his brother later began a textile mill and a power company that eventually provided power to hundreds of cotton mills.

James Duke died on Oct. 10, 1925. His fortune totaled approximately $167 million, about $2.2 billion today in 2013. About $67 million was put into a trust to fund colleges and universities, nonprofit hospitals, churches, and so on. Trinity College had benefited greatly from his largesse before his death and renamed itself Duke University to honor Buck Duke’s, Washington Duke. It received another substantial amount after his death.

Buck Duke’s only daughter, Doris Duke, received $100 million. 

John Sexton is an independent appraiser and expert of Civil War memorabilia. He is an accredited member of various appraiser organizations. He can be contacted at 770-329-4984 or www.CivilWarDealer.com. If you have a Civil War item for him to appraise, email a photo and a description to seantiquing@go-star.com .




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