Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Here is another article of my favorite columnist and historian  Ambeth Ocampo  about “Cigarettes and Filipino nationalism” on the Philippine Daily Inquirer dated

Overheard this joke about a man who returned a freshly bought pack of cigarettes that had the warning: “Smoking causes impotence.” He handed it back to the tindera saying, “give me the one that causes lung cancer.” This made me wonder why some “pasaway” are contesting No   Smoking ordinances enforced by MMDA, but do not contest the same in Makati. Tobacco was introduced into the Philippines from Mexico and   became so lucrative a cash crop that a “Tobacco Monopoly” was established in the 18th century to maximize revenue. This explains why some areas in Luzon like the Ilocos and Cagayan were planted to tobacco instead of staples like rice and sugar.

It is fascinating to trace present proposals for “sin taxes” on tobacco and alcohol back to their roots deep in the Spanish colonial period. For a comprehensive and readable study there is nothing better than Edilberto de Jesus’ “The Tobacco Monopoly: Bureaucratic Enterprise and Social Change, 1766-1880” (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1980). That, however, is not the last word on the topic because one area remains unexplored and these are the various cigar and cigarette labels that were made in the Philippines from the late 19th century to the pre-war period. Hundreds of small mom-and-pop companies concentrated in Binondo packaged cigarettes with labels that deserve serious study because these are not just works of art but a mirror of the times.

I once read a confidential police report in the National Archives regarding a cigarette factory in Binondo whose labels allegedly contained “subversive” designs. Then in the early American period when a Flag Law prohibited the display of the Philippine flag some cigarette labels carried designs that reminded the public of the Philippine Revolution, the Philippine-American War, or the short-lived Malolos Republic. An innocent-looking cigarette label “Filipinas para Filipinos” (The Philippines for Filipinos) openly pointed towards   independence. Then there was Inang Bayan, a Filipina in Filipiniana attire, pointing towards the dawn (bukang liwayway) of progress or independence. This made smoking literally dangerous to the health of colonial administration in the islands.

EL 87,  A Revolutionary Officer on Aguinaldo's Army
Tobacco has been part of Philippine life for a long time and early photographs show men, women and even children enjoying leaf tobacco   rolled into crude cigars longer than their arms. Tax collected on tobacco supplemented government revenue from the 18th century to our day and actually saved the post-galleon trade economy of the Philippines in the 19th century. If you look at the expenses of the First Philippine Republic you will notice recurring disbursement for  cigarettes distributed to weary soldiers and revolucionarios - proof that smoking fueled, in part, our struggle for independence and nationhood.

Before the World War II and the entry of branded foreign cigarettes there were hundreds of factories in Binondo that employed armies of workers, mostly women, who deftly sorted and rolled cured tobacco into cigars and cigarettes in the thousands. These cigarerras were, like domestics and prostitutes, part of the labor force. Over a thousand different cigarette wrappers are preserved in private collections in Manila dated from the late 1800s to the 1930s that have outlived   their specific function and have become a record of Philippine graphic or commercial art. These labels were basic marketing tools that not only advertised specific  brands, but expressed signs of the times, including nationalism. The lithographic process made it possible to print in the thousands, many of them in full color. Because these were common and were often discarded, it is a miracle that many have been preserved for us to study.

EL PACIFICADOR, TAMPOY, Islas Filipinas 1898, Malolos
These cigarette labels normally carried a brand or trade name and a colored illustration that was somehow related to the trade name or the sentiments of the factory owner. These labels also carried an address and a taxation number. Historians can date these labels from a simple linguistic shift from “Islas Filipinas” to “P.I.” (Philippine Islands)   that reflect the change from the Spanish to the American colonial period. Art nouveau motifs and designs appear in many labels dating them to a period after 1910. Jose Rizal’s face and name appear in many labels and were given stiff competition in the 1930s with the advent of politicians like Manuel Luis Quezon and Sergio Osmeña whose faces  also appeared on cigarette labels. Some Filipino ideals like Pagkakaisa or Magkaibigan were expressed in brand names. 

LA FAISANA, featuring a half naked Japanese Geisha
Scenes of   tourist attractions like Antipolo and Mayon found their way on labels together with one label with a couple of Japanese geishas who were popular with men in the Philippines who knew them as “karayuki-san” today we export Filipinas as “entertainers” and Filipinos as “hostos” to Japan.


I once collected Filipino cigarette labels, hoping to write a source book on early Philippine design, but when I was refused a feature in an inflight magazine on the basis of their no-smoking-in-the-cabin policy, I gave up and sold my collection. Quite sad really because today’s cigarette packages are not as aesthetic as the old ones. Vintage cigar and cigarette labels are visual fragments of Philippine history, taste and culture.





  1. You should indicate the years and dates also on the pictures

  2. Thanks for you note. Unfortunately I do not have a reference on the exact year these cigarette wrappers were made. Most of them were made during the turn-of-the-century (1890 - 1910). Ed

  3. I was wondering where you buy these things in the Philippines? Can you give us some tips on how to scout for a good antique shop? With the humidity, it must be very difficult to maintain the paper. I have a book about the art of cigar wrappers and you are definitely right that not many people are collecting this here.

  4. Hi Lilia,

    Try visiting these places Mabini Area in Manila, Tendesitas in Ortigas, and Cubao Shoe Expo. You can also visit Bayanihan Collectors Club Facebook account or got to this site http://bayanihan.pinoycollector.com/

    I hope to find more Filipiniana Cigarette and Cigar wrapper collectors so we can share our experience and knowledge.


  5. Hello Pinoy Collector,

    I am very much interested in Vintage Filipino Ads. Do you have some of these images available for sale? Thank you very much. Please contact me teodoro1980@yahoo.com

  6. Hello Pinoy Collector,

    Do you know some collectors selling vintage Philippine cigarette packs or maybe an unopened one? Thanks! Please contact me oag_lennon@yahoo.com

  7. Hello Mr. Pinoy Collector,

    I was in the States a few months ago and I had a conversation with an uncle of mine. He showed me a Cigar box, of course with the cigars in it. What made it special i guess is that it was given by former President Ferdinand Marcos. The box is stamped "Presidential Security Command Malacanang." it also bore the former President's signature on each Cigar. if you could be so kind to let me know how much it will cost if he decides to sell it. I might be able to visit him sometime later next month. Feel free to send me an e-mail sir so i could go tell him some news regarding what he has in his possession... jpvalerarpt@yahoo.com

    thanks and good day.

    1. Thanks for your note.... I do not know the value of that particular cigar box because I only collect labels and wrappers. Sometimes I see some presidential cigar boxes being sold on eBay for $50 - $100.00 or more depending on the rarity and workmanship. Regards, Ed

  8. I saw this on two labels (Kalahi and La Estrella de Antipolo) "premiada con medalla de oro en la exposicion de san luis". There was no San Luis Exposition under Spain; they must have been manufactured after the St Louis Exposition 1904 in U.S.A., the reason the manufacturer proudly stamped "Gold Medal Winner". I probably am wrong but I can't help but notice names like Simeon Soriano, Manuel Halile and Laureano G Bunuan. Were they the artists who designed the labels? I know Isaac Peral is now U.N. Avenue in Paco but I thought he was an admiral in the Spanish navy. Wasn't Bataan the cigarette brand our great grandmas used to puff with the lit side inside their mouths? If I remember it right the color of the paper used by the manufacturer to roll was brown, not white. I noticed that few brand names were in Spanish, but their message to the public was in the vernaculars. Look at those long messages on the right side of the labels, for example, the Ag Sulu brand, Ang Pagsasarili and LaAsamblea Filipina. Why is that? Who was the target market? Not the elite but the average man on the street, or is it just the patriotic sentiment of the time?

  9. Kababayan brand: The Boy and his dog with a surprised facial expression. Is it just me or is anyone else reminded of Norman Rockwell's works

  10. Hi there. I am looking for 19th Century Cigarettes/Cigarettes wrapper. By any chance, can you recommend where I can find these? Thanks!


  11. There's one thing that intrigued me.
    Filipinos referred to geishas (either the real cultural deal or the so-called "geisha girls") as "karayuki-san".
    Do you think that may have been where the term "karaoke" originalized? Or am I just seeing too much in such a similar-sounding term?