Whitman Cigars: A Poetic Comfort

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Frank Hartmann Sr. 1890

 Walt Whitman cigars were the brainchild of cigarmaker and businessman Frank J. Hartmann, Sr.  Mr. Hartmann learned the cigar maker trade in the 1880’s from  Cuban  cigar maker Raphael Perez, whom Hartmann and his family lived with at the time. In 1887, Frank moved his family from the Perez’s Philadelphia home to what is now the Cramer Hill area of Camden. Shortly after his arrival in Camden, Hartmann met Abner Benjamin Sparks, Sr., fellow cigar maker and then owner of Spark Cigars. Spark Cigars was a small cigar manufacturing plant on third and Arch Street in Camden. Eventually, Hartmann bought  Spark’s business expanding it into a larger building encompassing the entire corner of  3rd and Arch Streets. Below are some photos of Frank Hartmann and the Spark Factory (images courtesy of dvrbs.com a full link to the site is below).











Sparks Factory Full View


Spark Factory Close Up F. Hartmann in Doorway

Spark Factory Close Up F. Hartmann in Doorway

In approximately the 1890’s, Frank Hartmann developed Walt Whitman Cigars and while I was unable to find Hartmann’s personal reason for choosing Whitman as the “face” of his cigars, it seems that many cigar brands were using literary figures (even davey crockett) in order to entice the public to buy cigars. (you can find more info on cigar advertisting at the link below entitled cigaraficinado.com). And today the cigar labels and boxes are coveted collector’s items. According to the Libary of Congress exihibit, Revising Himself: Walt Whitman and Leaves of Grass, although Walt never believed he had reached the public he definitely had. His name was used to sell everything from cigars and coffee to insurance. and his name and image have become an integeral part of popular culture. Under their heading “Popularizing Whitman” the LOC writes:

Whitman feared he had not reached the common people, but his name has been used to sell cigars, coffee, whiskey, and insurance. His poetry was distributed to workers during the Depression and to soldiers during World War II. In 1957 the Walt Whitman Bridge opened between Philadelphia and Gloucester City, New Jersey. His words are inscribed in such public places as Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. and Fulton Ferry Landing in lower Manhattan. His image has been in cartoons and on matchbooks, postcards, and stamps. His life has inspired televison episodes and motion pictures. Hotels, buildings, plazas, camps, parks, truck stops, corporate centers, schools, AIDS clinics, think tanks, and shopping malls now bear his name (http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/whitman-legend.html).

While Frank Hartmann was running Spark Cigars he was extremely active in worker’s unions. In fact, his shop was the first to use an all-union labor. Perhaps that’s one reason he chose Whitman to be his icon. Who better to represent unionized worker’s than a poet who is all about humanity and equality?

Hartmann’s use of Whitman as the face of cigars was not a one way deal. By using Whitman, Hartmann not only sold cigars, but helped to promote Leaves of Grass as well. In 1898 Hartmann created a label for his cigar box entitled “Walt Whitman Cigars: Blades O’ Grass”. This would entice the public to not only buy the cigars, but to read Leaves as well.

Blades O Grass 1898

Blades O Grass 1898

(image courtesy of LOC and Dr. Scanlon) full link to loc exhibit below.

Then in 19o1 lithographers Kaufmann and Strauss created a sign that also became a box label. And this time the ad contained a slogan “Whitman Cigars: A Poetic Comfort” The Kaufmann and Strauss label and lithograph sign mark the first official ad for Walt Whitman Cigars and the importance during the early 20th century of lithographers in advertising. According to the website Cigar Afficiando’s article “Sign of the Times”:

In a self-perpetuating and evolving cycle, these signs became effective in expanding the cigar industry and captured the work of respected artists. By spreading awareness and appeal, they sold more cigars, spurring the release of new brands, which resulted in the commissioning of more signs. This also led to greater competition among brands in the tobacconist’s displays and an even greater need for dynamic, eye-grabbing ads (Cigar Aficiando link provided below) The Whitman Ad is currently valued at $10,000 (Cigar Aficianado)

Below is a picture of a reproduction of a 1910 ad that was similar to the original 1901 image and also ran with the poetic comfort slogan.Whitman Cigars: A Poetic Comfort

Whitman Cigars: A Poetic Comfort

Whitman Cigars: A Poetic Comfort

 The previous label from 1898 contained the name of the product, “Blades O’ Grass”, but here we see an evolution in advertising, not only because the company used professional lithographers, but because they wrote a slogan that is not product centric, but taps into the personality of Whitman himself. Here Hartmann and Son is truly selling an image. They are tapping into the concept of Whitman as the lazy, comfortable poet. A man of men who might sit down and enjoy the occassional cigar. And therefore the public sees cigars as a way to relax, as a way to live the life of a poet for a couple of minutes.

Finally, in other news, the above image has become an emblem of popular culture. While Googling I discovered Whitman’s image emblazoned on t-shirts sold on a punk clothing website (they are actually sold on a few different sites). I have provided the link below for your viewing pleasure. The idea of Poetic Comfort has gone punk. Here’s a picture to entice your buying power.

Whitman goes Punk
Whitman goes Punk

 The shirt is available in 9 different colors, but i liked the red best! the full link to the site is below. Enjoy! And here’s to Whitman’s work remaining a part of our culture and Whitman himself remaining an icon.


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