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Cigar Ribbon Quilt Artifact Highlight #23

This small unfinished quilt was donated to our collection in 2018. It dates to around 1900. It is pieced of yellow and orange silk cigar ribbons stitched on muslin backing. Various cigar labels are printed on the ribbons, including Sublimes, Renown, Reina Victoria, La Emelina, Caballeros, Manila's, Owl, First Consul, La Corecta, El Cabinet, and Regalia Columbia.

Smoking was popular during the Victorian period and for many men smoking cigars was a social rite, which often involved the wearing of special clothing like a smoking jacket, slippers and even a smoking cap.

“Big Dip” (Frank Henry Dependener) and Shorty Nunes (M. J. Nunes), smoking cigars. PCM Collection

Cigars were often sold in bundles wrapped by a silk ribbon with the brand name printed on it. These ribbons were collected and even traded with others to obtain a specific collection and to create various objects like quilts, pillows, and tablecloths. These narrow ribbons, which are about ¾ inches wide, were stitched on muslin backing, often with fancy stitching and creative patterns.

Creating these quilts required hundreds of ribbons, so understandably it would have taken a long time and a lot of cigars to create a large quilt. Cigar smoking enjoyed consistent support at the time when cigarettes were still rare. By mid-19th century Americans consumed some 300 million cigars annually; by the end of the century that number surpassed 4 billion. Mark Twain declared that "If I cannot smoke in heaven, then I shall not go."

Cigar smoker with his dog. PCM Collection

Since many women discouraged their husbands from smoking tobacco, tobacco companies created clever marketing campaigns that included packaging with silk and felt pieces printed with popular actresses, birds, butterflies, flags and other designs that would appeal to women collectors. Companies encouraged the collecting of ribbons and some even offered ribbons for sale to aid in quilting projects.

Victorian etiquette books agreed that smoking is not a desirable habit, yet it provided quilters with the medium to create something that was necessary in their household. The hallmark of the Victorian Era was change and even quilters were eager to try something new.

The quilt was donated by Ann Fenn, a Placer County Museums docent and longtime Auburn resident who started volunteering in 2001. Ann studied Art and Architecture at UC, Berkeley and has worked with art and children throughout much of her career. She discovered the quilt in the basement of her 1924-built home in Piedmont, California and took steps to have it preserved before donating the example of historic craftwork to Placer County Museums.