These Vintage Car Cigarette Card Illustrations Are Wonderful

Musky tobacco smell not included.

Cigarette cards
George Arents Collection

Recently, the New York Public Library digitized and released its immense collection of photos. Like the nerds we are, we immediately began digging (scrolling) through for something delicious and automotive. Far from the first page, but still miles from carpal tunnel, we came across these winners: French cigarette cards showcasing some of the most beautiful metal of the Forties and Fifties.

Aren’t familiar with cigarette cards? Then you probably weren’t smoking cigarettes before 1950. Before there were the rigid, rectilinear flip-top packs we have today, cigarettes were sold mostly in paper “soft packs,” easily crushed if left in a pocket. Many came with a stiffening cardboard square; as early as the 1870s, enterprising vendors were commissioning artists to portray movie stars, athletes, wildlife, airplanes and, of course, cars on the ostensibly structural cards. As such, smokers were encouraged to collect full sets of the colorful cards while—simultaneously—upholstering their lungs in tar. It was brilliant marketing and today, the cards can sell for as much as $1 million on eBay.

Or, for free, you could download these technicolor beauties: Les Autos Modernes, a wonderful and wonderfully curated series from Mills Cigarettes. The pleasing nicotine scent, unfortunately, did not survive scanning. But the illustrations are perfect.

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A.C. Greyhound

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Aston Martin DB4

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Austin Healey Sprite

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Cadillac Fleetwood Sedan

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Chrysler Imperial

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Citroen D.S.19

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Corvair

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Corvette

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Daimler 2.5 Litre Sports

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De Soto Diplomat

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Dodge Dart

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Fiat 600

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Ford Edsel

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Hillman Minx Convertible

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Humber Super Snipe Saloon

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Jaguar XK150

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Lynx

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Mercedes-Benz 300SL

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Mercury Commuter

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Renault Dauphine

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Simca Verdette

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Singer Gazelle Sport Car

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Studebaker Silver Hawk

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Sunbeam Alpine

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Triumph Herald