Matt Kristoffersen

A new Yale online exhibition, updated on Tuesday, uses tobacco posters, advertisements and anti-smoking pamphlets to complement a selection of tobacco memorabilia currently on display in the Sterling Memorial Library Memorabilia Room.

The exhibition, titled “Selling Smoke: Tobacco Advertising and Anti-Smoking Campaigns,” comprises what its curator, Melissa Grafe, the head of Yale’s Medical Historical Library, calls “an amazing, eye-catching bonanza.”

The exhibition was first displayed in Yale’s Cushing Whitney Medical Library in 2014. Since then, grants from the National Library of Medicine enabled archivists to digitize the collection and create an online exhibition by the same name.

“In the ‘Selling Smoke’ [online] exhibit, there’s an array of tobacco advertising, so much that people can click into each thing and really see some of the themes that we’ve brought out,” said Grafe. “I think online exhibits allow for a deeper exploration of a topic.”

For the exhibition Grafe selected highlights from 187 binders of tobacco memorabilia that avid collector William Van Duyn donated to Yale in 2002. The collection contains posters, photographs and other forms of tobacco advertisements and anti-smoking materials spanning from 1898 to 2002. According to Grafe, Duyn assembled the binders in order to emphasize the prevalence of tobacco advertising during the 20th century.

Grafe’s exhibition explores developments in tobacco companies’ advertising techniques. The objects depict the ways companies first discredited, then succumbed to, the reality of smoking-related health hazards.

One section of the exhibit, “Prizes and Promotions,” includes images of playing cards and party favors that accompanied cigarette boxes in the 20th century. Other sections feature high-resolution scans of posters, billboards and advertisements from various tobacco companies that viewers can magnify and explore on their computer screens — a feature that Grafe noted would be impossible in a physical setting.

“Physical exhibits are bounded by the actual space,” Grafe said. “We have to be really aware of how many items can go into each case, what the size of the material we put in there or what the condition of the material is. We can’t put fragile things into a physical exhibit.”

Another advantage of online exhibits is the ability to include a bibliography, Grafe says. For example, in this online exhibition, Grafe included a link to a Stanford University online resource of tobacco memorabilia that visitors to a physical exhibition would not be able to view instantly.

While “Selling Smoke” includes a rich digital collection, Patricia Carey, the Yale University Library’s communications director, emphasized that physical exhibitions in Sterling are not obsolete.

“We are not in any way moving away from physical exhibits — in fact, plans have been drawn up to create a new museum-quality exhibition space at the back of the Sterling Memorial Nave into the existing exhibit spaces in the Wall Street Exhibition Corridor and the Memorabilia Room,” Carey said.

Though the online portion of “Selling Smoke” remains a crucial component of this exhibit, Grafe also highlighted the advantages of physical exhibitions.

“One of the major drawbacks with online exhibits is there’s something about seeing the physical object,” Grafe said. “You can see things you wouldn’t expect to see just by looking at the digitized object. If you’re looking at lighters or if you’re looking at ashtrays … you can see the pictures online, but I think there’s something very different when you can see the physical exhibit.”

Between 12:00 and 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 13, the exhibition will reopen in collaboration with Tobacco Free Yale and the American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout in order to promote anti-smoking advocacy at Yale. Those who attend will have an opportunity to obtain resources related to overcoming tobacco addiction and will also have a chance to win a free turkey.

“Selling Smoke” runs in Sterling library until Feb. 22.

Matt Kristoffersen |