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Tobacco-smoking, mid 20th Century

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Where cigarettes and tobacco products were sold in their heyday

Museum reproduction of a British tobacconist shop c1920

Tobacconist shop, photographed in the Black Country Museum which aims to depict life in the 1920s.

Tobacco smoking was so much a way of life while I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s that there was no difficulty at all in finding somewhere to buy tobacco products. In particular there were showcases of them on public display for all to see.

Tobacconist shops

There were shops, known as tobacconists, dedicated to selling just tobacco products, and they clearly made a good living.

inside an old tobacconist shop

Inside a tobacconist shop. This shop is now part of Winchester City Museum and is as it was when it ceased trading, still in its original location.

Some tobacconists were in chains, like Lewis's, but there were also individual tobacconist proprietors.

Newsagents and pubs

Most newsagents also sold the more popular cigarette brands alongside their newspapers and magazines, as did pubs alongside their drinks.

However, newsagents and pubs did not carry anywhere near the same range of stocks as did the specialist tobacconists.

Cigarette sales in grocery shops

Guest contribution

During my childhood in the 1940s and early 1950s, it was not at all odd that a grocery shop had a glass container - much like a large open top fishbowl - on the counter from which loose cigarettes, mostly 'Players' brands, could be bought individually. This allowed people to buy the few 'smokes' they would get through during their working day.

Jan Clifford


Cigarette vending machines

Cigarette vending machines were also in public places, particularly in railway stations - although of course they were often empty during World War Two.

Old cigarette vending machine

Cigarette vending machine, photographed in Milton Keynes Museum. At that time, a packet of cigarettes cost 6d.

Gradually in the later part of the century, dedicated tobacconists and cigarette vending machines began to disappear, as supermarkets and newsagents took over these roles.


If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.

Text and images are copyright


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