What would you pay for a fine baby carriage, made of the best selected woven reeds, upholstered with plush velour and shaded by a silk, satin-lined umbrella? In 1902, that would have cost you just 3,125 tags from plugs of chewing tobacco manufactured by the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

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The University Library at UNC-Chapel Hill has digitally published a premium catalog of offerings from RJR to its customers from that time. All you had to do was fill out a form and submit it, along with the appropriate number of tags to receive any item of your choice, ranging from household goods to clothing to sports equipment to kitchenware to fine furniture to just about anything that your heart could desire.

Take a look at the cover of the catalog:

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And on the back cover was a then-and-now rendering of RJR history:

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Of course, to accumulate 3,125 tags, a man (or woman…there were plenty of women who chewed) would have to chew a full plug of “Reynolds’ Sun Cured” daily for about 8 1/2 years. But for the slackers, there were lesser premiums. The cheapest that we could find in the catalog were a tobacco pouch for 30 tags and a child’s cutlery set, a collar button, match box and a pair of scissors for 40 tags.

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As always when anything of value is offered, there were problems with counterfeiters. But RJR had anticipated that. Beware the notice in the catalog:

EVERY PACKAGE RECEIVED BY US WILL BE CAREFULLY INSPECTED, AND ANY AND ALL TAGS FOUND THEREIN THAT ARE NOT REDEEMABLE UNDER OUR OFFER, WILL BE REJECTED, AND THE SENDER REQUIRED TO FURNISH US, INSTEAD, TWO TAGS THAT WE DO AGREE TO REDEEM, FOR EVERY ONE TAG SO REJECTED.

For the serious chewer, there were much higher challenges. Fine furniture went for 5,000 to 15.000 tags. And for the overachievers, there was this, the priciest item in the book:

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That would keep a jaw working for 78 years. Ya’ll chew now.

Documenting the American South (DocSouth), a digital publishing initiative sponsored by the University Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, provides access to digitized primary materials that offer Southern perspectives on American history and culture. It supplies teachers, students, and researchers at every educational level with a wide array of titles they can use for reference, studying, teaching, and research.

See the complete 80 page RJR premium catalog and many other fascinating documents at the University Library website.

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