Cigarette Pack Collectors' Association

                                The Era of the Ten-Centers

       As the decade of the 1930’s began, the “big three plus one” cigarette manufacturers enjoyed a commanding lead in sales. Sure, there were still smokers who held on to the old-line Turkish cigarettes such as Murad, Melachrino and Rameses but Camels, Lucky Strikes, Old Gold and Chesterfield accounted for an astounding 92% of all cigarette sales nationally. The lead was so comfortable by 1931 in fact, that the R.J. Reynolds Company decided to raise the wholesale price of Camels from $6.40 per thousand to $6.85.  Lucky Strike, Chesterfield and Old Gold soon followed suit and the retail price of cigarettes moved from two packs for a quarter to fifteen cents a pack  Reynolds defended the price increase as being a result of higher advertising costs but in fact the overall costs for manufacturing and distributing cigarettes had gone down for all four companies. As the economic downturn set in, both wages and the wholesale cost of leaf tobacco had dropped dramatically and profits were at an all-time high.

    Probably coming as a surprise to the corporate directors at Reynolds, American Tobacco, Liggett &Meyers and Lorillard, it didn’t take long for the price increases to have a negative impact on their sales. In 1931, for the first time in over a decade, overall cigarette sales dropped, going from 124 billion to 117 billion units. Sales of Camels dropped an astounding 30%. Much of this was accounted for by the rise in sales for sack tobacco. For only a nickel, a penny-pinching smoker could buy a bag of Bull Durham and with the aid of some paper and a little practice, he could roll twenty perfectly good cigarettes. In retrospect, it is clear that executives at Reynolds and the other major firms misjudged the market as well as state of the economy in general but that is somewhat understandable given the commanding position which they were in at the time.

    Then, in September 1931, Larus & Bros. a small Richmond firm, introduced a new brand called White Rolls based on the same blend of tobaccos in the standards but priced at ten cents a pack. Even with very little promotion or advertising, the brand quickly picked up sales. The following month, Philip Morris followed suit by moving Paul Jones Cigarettes, which up until then was considered a regional brand with a small following in New England, onto the national market with a large advertising campaign. America, here’s your cigarette, twenty for ten cents” proclaimed the billboard and newspaper ads nationwide. The effects of these new “ten-centers” were beginning to be felt across the country and in March 1932, Brown and Williamson lowered the price of  their Wings brand to 10 cents and promoted them heavily. Meanwhile, Liggett & Meyers joined the field by taking an old standby brand Coupon and re-packaging it into packs of ten for a nickel.

      In June 1932, Woodford “Fitch” Axton of The Axton Fisher Tobacco Company decided that the time was right for him to make a move and he did in a big way with a new “ten-center” called Twenty Grand.  Promoted heavily, the new brand surged in sales almost immediately. Within three months, Twenty Grands were selling at a rate of 700,000 a day and Axton-Fisher couldn’t keep up with demand from retailers. Soon, the plant in Louisville was operating 24 hours a day and plans were underway for an expansion of the facility. The success of Twenty Grand and Wings, (which would briefly replace Old Gold as number four in national sales), led to an explosion in new low-priced brands. From PM subsidiary, Stephano Bros. came Marvels. Another PM subsidiary, Continental Tobacco, sold Black and White and Revelation Cigarettes through their National Cigar Stands for the same low price. Scotten-Dillon of Detroit introduced Ramrod while Rosedor Tobacco of New York repackaged a 1920s brand called Bright Star as a ten-center. Christian Peper Tobacco Company of St. Louis brought out a ten cent brand called Golden Rule. Flushed with the success of Wings, Brown and Williamson moved Avalon into the ten cent category and promoted that brand widely. In 1935, Liggett & Meyers took another of their old brands, Sunshine and turned it into a discount smoke. Finally, Lorillard entered the economy market in 1938 with Sensation which garnered only minor sales.     

    In January 1933, The American Tobacco Company led the way in retreating from their earlier price hikes by lowering the wholesale price all the way down to $6.00 per thousand. It wasn’t long before the other                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               three major cigarette makers followed suit and standard brands were back to two packs for a quarter at most retailers by late spring. But the market had been fundamentally changed with the proliferation of new brands and the big four standard brands would never again enjoy the almost total domination of the market which they once had.                





    As the depression worsened, many Americans found themselves so short of cash that even the price of a pack of cigarettes was tough to scrape up especially just before payday. For those who couldn’t afford to buy a full pack, retailers began to offer individual cigarettes at a penny apiece. In the trade these loose cigarettes, which often were sold out of wooden boxes on the retailers’ counters, quickly became known as “loosies”. Although never acknowledged by the industry, the practice was popular not only with customers but also with retailers who could pick up an extra five cents on a pack by selling them this way. Although mostly a phenomenon of the depression, “loosies” survived well into the 1950s usually being sold to young smokers for whom the thirty-five cents then needed to buy a pack of cigarettes might be better invested in putting a gallon or two of gas in their cars. 

Brown & Williamson

   British controlled Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company of Louisville lacked the clout of the majors in the cigarette market of the 1930s but they adopted an effective strategy to compete with their bigger rivals.Employing a sort of “shotgun approach” in 1932, the firm introduced Kool to compete in the menthol segment of the market, Viceroy , a filtered luxury smoke for the urban market and a revamped Raleigh as their standard brand. The latter brand had been first introduced in 1929 as a premium cigarette with a luxury clamshell case and priced at twenty cents. However, with the coming of the depression sales had dropped off sharply so Raleigh was given a new blend which was similar to the standards, a new package design, a lower price and something which set it apart from the rest of the field… coupons.  Redeemable for numerous gifts from table lighters to flatware, the coupons came attached one to each pack with an extra four in each carton. This arrangement was attractive to both customers and retailers who could pocket the extra four coupons whenever they broke open a carton. While Viceroy sales were slow in the early years both Kool and Raleigh caught on with the public and earned a steady following