Not many European ladies evoke grander visions of heroism than Joan of Arc. 15th-century heroine of the Hundred Years War, she encapsulates the French struggle against the British. Amid a struggle for control over continental Europe, young Joan saw visions of saints encouraging her to work on behalf of French rule. The French people have immortalized her struggle for the nation, especially her divine calling and her execution by her enemies as a cross-dresser (she wore male armor for battle and for protection).
While she might not meet the current French ideals of lady’s fashion – Erté would exchange her armor for a flowing gown and Louis Vuitton’s modern designers would replace her sword with a handbag – Joan of Arc and her valor remain a symbol of French nationhood and morality. She has inspired numerous memorials, including several films.
No less a personage than Ingrid Bergman, mid-century deacon of the film industry, fought to portray her on the silver screen. Three decades later, Bergman would portray that other great woman of valor (who some have also accused of appearing too manly), Golda Meir, in A Woman Called Golda (1982).
This cigarette pack features Joan of Arc proudly carrying a Fleur-de-lis banner, wearing full military gear and sitting astride a trotting steed. The image bears close resemblance to the golden statue at the Place des Pyramides in Paris by sculptor Emmanuel Frémiet. She appears ever-ready to defend her country from any foreign invaders.
But the story of this pack continues. On the reverse, we find the words “Croiseur Jeanne D’Arc,” above a coat of arms design of a crown by a sword that is flanked by two fleur-de-lis. This is probably a reference to the French cruiser Jeanne D’Arc, in operation 1928-1964.
The ship served as an ambassadorial vessel in 1939, carrying the French banner to all parts of the world where it held influence just before the Nazi invasion crippled French sovereignty. It’s possible this package was produced as a souvenir for one of the ship’s many visits, either in 1939 or one of its many instructional tours. (Check out some fun footage of the ship’s crew celebrating as they cross the Equator – Warning! Some of the sailors lose their clothes!)