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Barnabee Between the Acts

Henry Clay BarnabeeFamous Actor Cards,
With Butts, Not Bubble Gum

Back before the silver screen, a Portsmouth-boy grew up to be a famous stage actor. Back then tobacco advertising was politically correct. Henry Clay Barnabee was so famous that his face appeared on tobacco cards. Now those cards are collectible and they tell us about American history



Between the ActsToday it is called "tobacciana" -- collecting stuff related to vintage tobacco. There is no end of tobacco items, from metal cans, pipes and lighters to early tobacco advertising. Since Europeans first caught the Native American habit in 1492, tobacco has been among the most advertised product in history.

With the mass marketing of tobacco in the 1800s came the popular tobacco cards, fancy printed cardboard pieces included inside packs of cigarettes and cigars. The forerunner of baseball cards, they depicted naval heroes, great Americans, wild west figures, performers, all sorts of American imagery. Between the Acts, still available, is one of the longest surviving brands and for decades the collectible cards depicted famous figures of the theatrical stage – the movie stars of the 1800s. Cards came inside sturdy metal containers holding ten little cigars. An 1890s era ad describes Between the Acts Little Cigars as "the old original unequaled best-known largest selling little cigar in the world".

Between the Acts AdComic actor Henry Clay Barnabee, perhaps Portsmouth’s most famous thespian, was among the stars depicted. Tragedian Edwin Booth, brother of Lincoln’s assassin and a visitor to the Seacoast region, is also included among largely-forgotten actors and actresses of the era.

One smoked these little cigars, of course, between the acts at formal theaters like the Portsmouth Music Hall. While stage hands scurried around backstage setting up the next part of the performance, men clustered in the smoky lobby, or smoked at private men’s clubs that once proliferated in town. Another early ad tells theatre-goers that Between the Acts is the ideal "foyer" smoke, quick and tasty.

The summary on the back of the Barnabee card, published during his active career, reads as follows:


HENRY CLAY BARNABEE (Back of actor card)

Between the ActsBorn in Portsmouth, NH , Nov 145h, 1833, went to Boston for church choir book and entertaining. Made his debut, professionally, at the Boston Museum in "Toby Twinke". In 1879 became a members of The Boston Ideal Opera, Co., 1888, assisted in organizing the still more famous Bostonians. His Sheriff of Nottingham, Sir John Porter, The Duke in "The Mascotte", and Prince Lorenzo in "Olivette" and a score of other creations will long be remembered.

All tobacco – no paper – not a cigarette

Particularly satisfactory to smokers of
high grade cigars when when time is limited

Between the Acts

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