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?
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.
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.
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.