RVA50 Object 31 “Old Chief Smokum Figure, circa 1885″

“Old Chief Smokum” Figure, circa 1885

Terra cotta, plaster cast

“Old Chief Smokum,” a late 19th century cigar store advertising figure was displayed in a downtown Richmond tobacconist shop. The American-made “Cigar-Store Indian” figures rarely resembled any particular American Indian but were merely designed to capture the attention of potential tobacco customers in an age when the average cigar smoker couldn’t read the words “Tobacconist Shop.”

Tobacco was one of the gifts from the native people to the first European colonists in the New World.  Taken back to the courts of Europe, the habit of “drinking tobacco,” as smoking was then called, quickly spread.  King James I of England was so disgusted by the rise of smoking in his domains that he published a treatise condemning it in 1604.

The importance of tobacco to Richmond’s economic well-being rebounded after the American Civil War, creating factory jobs for many of the former enslaved workers.  “Old Chief Smokum” was a gift to the donor from the president of the Congress Tobacco Company of Chicago.

Gift of Mr. Henry Gunst, 1956