Mail Pouch Tobacco: Looking For Ghosts

Mail Pouch Tobacco: Looking For Ghosts

This morning I was trying to recall when and where I was first exposed to a Mail Pouch Tobacco barn or ad. I’ve come up with nothing concrete. My first blog post related to Mail Pouch was from 2009. I’d stopped to take a picture of a barn while we were riding in Kentucky. Could that have really been the spark that lit the fire?

A Mail Pouch Tabacco ghost in Mill Hall, Pa.

Prior to 2009, I’d done some riding in West Virginia, the home of Bloch Brothers and Mail Pouch Tobacco. I’d traveled up and down roads that I’ve subsequently come to know have Mail Pouch barns on them. Maybe it is all just one big recognition puzzle. You start gathering pieces and shapes and then one day everything begins to interlock and you start to see an image.

Many layers to the Mail Pouch onion in Mill Hall, Pa.

Honestly, I’m not even sure what it is about the signs that interest me so. I find smoking and chew/pinch tobacco disgusting. So you can rule out nostalgia for the product itself. Maybe I connect the locations where you’d see barns and ads – places like lonely backroads and old rail towns – with good times? And the aesthetic can’t be discounted either, I suppose. Maybe I see them as art. Or time capsules to a less modernized life which I tend to romanticize.

Re-painted Mail Pouch barn on the Corner of 6 & 146 in Mt. Jewett, Pa.

For me, ghost ads or barn ads have no slickness. And I say that as a compliment. Instead, they carry a humanity to them. They weren’t made with mechanized sprayers or stretched vinyl. They were made by the hands of a person. A person standing, sweating, wiping their brow, stretching, correcting, pulling paint along a surface. I appreciate the humanity of the process.

5 Replies to “Mail Pouch Tobacco: Looking For Ghosts”

  1. These were likely the first billboards to ever grace the open road. The great grandfathers of rural advertising. They are iconic. I share the connection with them as well as the curiosity regarding why they stick out in my mind. I probably pause longer to view a tobacco sign longer than any other photo and recognize them on the road quicker than any other landmark. You are not alone Fuzster. There is definitely something about those signs.

  2. Nice description in this post and I agree with the sentiments. I also stopped to take a photo of the first one I’d ever seen a few years ago, not realizing they were a “thing”.

  3. With 20,000 of them around in the 1960s and Mail Pouch continuing to paint them until the 90s I suppose they’ll be around for awhile. Your one picture showed what looked like a freshly painted one. I suppose people are paying to have them reworked?

    They are indelibly etched in my memories as far back as I can remember. Like penny candy and 5&Dime stores. I’ll have to make sure my granddaughter appreciates them…

  4. When I was a kid in the 60’s and 70’s, I recall my parents expressing the opinion that all outdoor advertising was an ugly blight on the landscape. They were not alone in this viewpoint; many parts of the country enacted restrictions on billboards, etc.
    I am always struck by how our cultural change is not linear, but circular, or at least cyclical.

  5. I took some pictures of one once and got a long lecture on copyright and not using the photo for anything other than personal use. Maybe she didn’t realize I was actually standing, sweating, wiping my brow, stretching and correcting, just like I used to do when I painted houses.

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