Take a good close look at this cigarette pack, and a few things begin to jump out.
First, “Christo Cassimis” is an awesome brand name. It’s more Greek than Egyptian, and it’s Christian rather than Muslim (imagine how the Muslim Brotherhood would boycott these packs!). This manufacturer goes back to 1882 and produced some stunning designs. Its more colorful packs are true pieces of art, suitable for display in any gallery. The art here is a bit more subtle, from the post-WWII period, but nevertheless impressive. More on that in a bit.
Second, there are a lot of English and French phrases for an Egyptian pack. The English and French also appear above the Arabic and/or in larger letters. That’s a dead giveaway that it comes from the days when Egypt was still considered part of the British Empire, before the 1952 coup d’etat against King Farouk and the British Empire’s influence over his regime. Gamal ‘Abdel Nasser’s Egyptian nationalism (later, Arab nationalism) in the years after the revolution led a movement away from English and French influence.
Third, the design inside the trademark features two figures portrayed in ancient Egyptian style on a small boat. Was the Pharaoh trading in tobacco 3,000 years ago? Probably not, but Egypt was a mercantile powerhouse in the ancient world, controlling much of the land bridge connecting the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and the caravan routes due east and north. Then there’s the Nile, the great river whose steady flow unites the region from Sudan to the Delta, and whose regular floods provided the irrigated fields that fed the empire. The boat appears to be a Nile ferry or barge, powered by paddle rather than mast and following a steady current down the Nile (learn more about ancient Nile river shipping).
After some centuries of economic stagnancy, Egypt’s mercantile strength was reviving after World War II, and looking to a bright future. This artwork therefore does a nice job of bridging the romance of the ancient world with the industrialism of the modern era (check out “From Cleopatra to the Suez Canal”).
Proof of Egypt’s ability to stretch its trade across the world can be found in the stamps that seal this pack closed: they’re from two different countries! Most of my international packs were purchased abroad, but this one made its way to my hometown of Baltimore in the hands of tobacco merchants. The Egyptian stamp bears the symbol of state for the Kingdom of Egypt (a crescent moon with three stars, which seem to represent the unification of Egypt, Nubia, and Sudan) under a bird spreading its wings and over a certification that the cigarettes were made in Egypt. At the bottom of the stamp are the marks of the Egyptian Customs Administration, permitting the packs to leave the country.
On the other side is the classic American cigarette stamp, a picture of DeWitt Clinton, the New York governor who ordered the construction of the Erie Canal. (Curious about the scandal that led to DeWitt Clinton being on the stamp? Read about it on stamps.org.) In tiny print you can find the words “Series 119,” which tell us that it came from 1949.
Last but not least, the two City of Baltimore revenue stamps on the side of the pack display the Washington Monument. That’s the real Washington Monument in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon Place, not the later one in Washington, D.C. (which, in the unforgettable words of ventriloquist Jeff Dunham’s character Ahmed the Dead Terrorist, “looks more like a tribute to Bill Clinton”).
Unfortunately, the Baltimore stamps are pretty worn on this pack, so I’m posting a picture from another pack so you can catch the monument in its full stamp-laden beauty. Speaking of which, Baltimore’s been renovating our Washington Monument and it looks prettier than ever. Pay it a visit if you haven’t recently.
Upcoming post: French cigarettes