Bragg Column: Puffing Piedmonts days over

2002-06-23T23:00:00Z Bragg Column: Puffing Piedmonts days over The Billings Gazette
June 23, 2002 11:00 pm

Addison Bragg BRAGG ABOUT BILLINGS

Talk got around that day to some once-familiar names that long ago disappeared from newspapers, radio and magazines, as well as from stores. A few at that gathering remembered a radio personality named L. A. (Speedy) Riggs and knew all about why Lucky Strike green went to war.

Last time I ran across Mr. Riggs, a tobacco auctioneer, he was in the Northern Hotel lobby - not smoking, as I recall. He could tell me nothing about why Lucky Strike green stayed in for much longer than the duration plus six months, since the white pack which replaced it is still around.

A rival of the company whose motto, it may be recalled, was that since their product was toasted (whatever that meant) Luckies were always "kind" to the throats of those who for patriotic or other reasons continued to buy them.

One cigarette manufacturer declared with some pride, whether medically justified or not, that not even a carload of Old Golds contained so much as a single cough.

At least back in a time of dust storms, pink tooth brushes and talking pictures, they were all the same length and the only king-size thing anyone spoke of was a hangover. They came then in tin-foil lined packs of 20, flat fifties being still a decade or more away. Herbert Tareytons were aristocrats of the industry, selling at 35 cents a pack for plain or cork tips. The avant garde contingent found ivory or ruby-tipped cigarettes (so lipstick would not show) acceptable. And, a small coterie of puffers, mostly older women, kept smoke out of their eyes with foot-long cigarette holders.

Before Willie the Penguin, Spuds were for the menthol crowd. But, the plain brand name was driven out, or frozen out, by Willie who sounded more like a pigeon as he exhorted puffers to smoke Kools.

Among once popular smokes now found only in some Valhalla of Lady Nicotine are Chesterfields, Piedmonts, Twenty Grands, Dominos, Wings, Fatimas and probably Viceroys.

And by the way, the thought has just occurred to me that I haven't seen a sack of Bull Durham around for years. And I would hazard to guess that we have today as much as three times the number of brands on the market as there were when all the smoking business started. But the prices have long since outdistanced the product.

We once had at least six brands selling for 10 cents a pack. The median price for cigarettes in the early 1930s was l1 cents with the high rollers paying as much as a quarter to 30 cents for their daily ration.

Now, there are places in Billings where a pack can cost up to $4. That would have bought four cartons of Camels - which some would walk a mile for - in those halcyon days.

Addison Bragg can be reached at sherlock@wtp.net

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