Photographing a Mail Pouch Tobacco Barn in Dutchess County

A while back, when I was working on my ghost signs photography project, I realized that although there were plenty of Uneeda Biscuit and Coca-Cola faded brickads in the Capital District, there was one type of outdoor advertising icon that didn’t get all the way up to the Capital area.

I’m talking about Mail Pouch Tobacco barns.

Background.  Aaron and Samuel Bloch start their own tobacco business, beginning about a decade after the last battle of the Civil War.  Their Wheeling, W.V. company took cigar tobacco clippings, flavored the tobacco, and sold the product – essentially chewing tobacco – in little pouches.  Beginning in 1890, the company advertised their popular chewing tobacco by painting advertisements on barn walls.  “CHEW Mail Pouch Tobacco,” the signs would read, “Treat Yourself to the Best.”

The Bloch Brothers company continued to paint any barn with the traditional Mail Pouch Tobacco slogan, continuing through two World Wars and the Great Depression.  Barns were even painted during the 1960’s, when the Highway Beautification Act restricted the proliferation of signage and advertising along America’s highways.  When the last barn painter, Harley Warrick (who estimated that he may have painted over 20,000 barns in his lifetime) retired in 1992, the company that owned Bloch Brothers Tobacco stopped painting or retouching the barn advertisements.

Many of the barns fell into disrepair or were demolished over time; others saw the iconic advertisements fade away with every continuing rainstorm.  The advertisements on some barns, however, were carefully restored and updated, so that they are as sharp as ever – despite advertising a product that is now owned by an entirely different company (Swisher International purchased Mail Pouch Tobacco some time ago).

A website devoted to Mail Pouch barns notes that there are several Mail Pouch Barns in New York, but they are mostly located in Western New York.

Except for one barn… in Dutchess County.

The website listed the barn’s location, giving its latitude and longitude coordinates.  I hopped into the Saturn Ion (yeah, I started to type “Pontiac 6000” out of habit) and drove down to Dutchess County to find the barn.

It took some searching, but eventually I found it.  It was tucked away on a shady road.  I quickly got out of the car, grabbed my Nikon D700 and – making sure I stayed on the street and not entered private property – took some photographs of what may be the only Mail Pouch Barn in existence in eastern New York.

Here, take a look.

Mail Pouch Tobacco barn, Dutchess County, NY

Apparently at one point in time, the barn also advertised what looks like “H. Alwine Transfer Co., Storage, Shippers.”  But the classic Mail Pouch Tobacco sign is still readable.

I mentioned that I got this shot with my Nikon D700.  I had my Kiev-19 in the car, and I figured what the heck, let’s get some Kodachrome shots of the barn.

I checked the film counter.  It said I had five pictures left.  I got out of the car.  I shot a picture of the barn.  Advanced the film.  Four photos left.

I shot another picture of the barn, using a different aperture.  Advanced the film.  RIP

Yeah.  That’s a sound I didn’t want to hear.  Apparently what I THOUGHT were three more photos in the cartridge, was actually the counter being three photos behind in the count.  So I tried to take a 25th photograph on a 24-photo cartridge.  Oops.

Now your man had one of two choices.  He could have left the camera alone, drove back to Albany, taken the camera into a pitch-black closet, opened the camera up, re-spooled the film back into the cartridge, and sent it off to Dwayne’s Photo and hoped for the best …

No, I didn’t do that.  That would have been the SMART thing to do.

No, I opened up the camera right then and there to see what kind of damage had been caused.  And in doing so, I immediately over-exposed all the undeveloped film in the camera.

I resigned myself to the fact that what just happened was a learning tool, to remind me to never trust mechanical camera counters.  If my Kiev-19 could talk, it would probably say, “Вы глупые фотограф! В следующий раз, помните, сколько фотографий в камеру!” (“You stupid photographer!  Next time, remember how many photos are in the camera!”)

Still, I was smart enough to remember to bring the Nikon D700, and I did get this swank photo of the Mail Pouch barn.

And maybe, someday before the year is out, I’ll come back through Dutchess County and photograph the barn in Kodachrome.  We shall see.