Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day


[“The American Worker.” Photograph by Edward Clark. No location or date. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a much larger view.]

I am slightly bonkers over the mid-century material culture in this photograph. The cigarette brands, left to right: Camel, Lucky Strike, Kool, Old Gold, Chesterfield, Philip Morris Commander, Cavalier, Pall Mall, Chesterfield, Herbert Tareyton, Raleigh (filter and non-filter), Old Gold, Philip Morris Commander, Winston, and Tareyton (filter). Beneath the cigarettes, Velvet, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Prince Albert pipe tobacco. The earliest possible date for this photograph: 1954, the year Winston was introduced. Notice that the one man in the picture is hatted (of course). He appears to be in need of some Gillette blades.

I was telling my daughter recently what it was like to run a cash register in my Housewares Department days. The register was more like the one in this photograph than not. Ringing up multiples of a single item was the most fun you could have: hold down the keys for the price with the left hand (like playing a chord on a piano), and bang away on the bar with the right: Three at $1.49? $1–40–9, bang, bang, bang.

Is that Sally Draper in the corner? And can you tell that I’m an ex-smoker?

comments: 5

Fresca said...

I love background details.
How much did those cigarettes cost, do you remember?
I smoked when I was a teenager for a couple years (mid-70s), but don't remember. Still, I was shocked to see a pack is now up around $8.

I liked buying packs out of cigarette vending machines--I suppose because it was manual (you pulled a lever and they ka-chunked out). Levers, pulleys, planes--all those simple machines are so satisfying to operate.
Good work.

Michael Leddy said...

I can’t remember what cigarettes cost when I was smoking. I often used loose tobacco, Drum and then Old Holborn, so that puts me further from the price per pack. I know that prices vary from state to state because of taxes, so the average price of a pack might have little relation to the price in a particular state.

The prices in this photo seem to be “2 for 35” and “2 for 37.” Am I reading that right?

The machine for me was always a last resort — I assumed that the cigarettes had been sitting in there forever. But yes, there’s something satisfying about pulling a lever. Better than the machines with a little rectangular button for each brand. If I remember correctly, cigarette machines dispensed a book of matches along with the cigarettes.

csp123 said...

"If I remember correctly, cigarette machines dispensed a book of matches along with the cigarettes."

You do indeed remember correctly, Michael.

Any idea what the soda/pop next to the Coke is? It appears to be some defunct or regional brand--if it's regional, it would provide a clue as to where the photo is taken.

I'm also reminded of The Onion's spoof headline of 1926 (from the book _Our Dumb Century_): "Man Ventures Outside Hatless."

Best wishes, Felicia Alexander

Michael Leddy said...

Hi Felicia!

I tried to suss out that soda. My guess at a name was Mascot, but I can’t find anything.

I remember that headline and will have to look it up. The book is “somewhere,” that is, somewhere in the house.

Michael Leddy said...

Oh — and thanks for confirming that machines dispensed matches.