History of the old Mail Pouch ghost sign in Jonesborough, Tennessee

The faded Mail Pouch ghost sign in Jonesborough was originally painted in 1895

In the beautiful, small town of Jonesborough  the oldest town in Tennessee  there's a historic building that probably isn't so significant in its own right, except that it features a large old painted wall ad that can't be missed.

The A.B. Cummings Building, constructed circa 1888is widely known as "The Mail Pouch Building" because of its historic tobacco wall ad, which was originally painted in 1895 and restored in 1994. The building now houses a retail boutique.

The text of the fading, hand-painted ghost sign says:

A.B. Cummings,

Groceries, Coal, Hay etc.

Trade Mark.

West Virginia Mail Pouch Tobacco

for Chewing and Smoking.

Bloch Bros. W-Va.

(In very large type) Mail Pouch Tobacco

The official Jonesborough tourism page says this about the old sign: "Painted around 1895, the sign itself is made up of two parts: the lower portion, advertising Mail Pouch Tobacco, processed by Bloch Bros. of Wheeling, West Virginia. The upper portion is an advertisement for Augustus B. Cummings, who was a local businessman and possibly one of the inventors of the first plow. This portion is called a privilege panel, and was traditionally given to the building’s owner or occupant as compensation for allowing the tobacco company to paint their sign on the building."

Fine art photograph of the Mail Pouch Building

Museum-quality black and white prints of this photograph are available in a wide variety of sizes. They are printed on archival baryta-surface paper and are designed to become family heirlooms that will last well beyond our lifetimes with proper care (just like the old building itself).

Buy a fine art print here, or click the photograph

Black and white photograph of the historic Mail Pouch ghost sign in Jonesborough, Tennessee

Black and white photograph of the historic Mail Pouch ghost sign in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Click to buy a fine art print.

Description of the Mail Pouch Building from the National Register of Historic Places Application

Below is the full description of the building from the United States Department of the Interior National Park Service National Register of Historic Places:

"104 S. Cherokee Street

 The building on parcel 060AF01401 is a commercial building. The historic name is Mail Pouch Building and it is now known as the Mail Pouch. Built in 1888, the form of the building is Two Part Commercial Block. The building is 2.0 stories and has a rectangular shape. The foundation is brick and the siding is brick. The roof material is rubber membrane and the roof shape is parapet, with shed roof. There are no chimneys. The building does not have a porch. There is a stoop. The building has 1/1 and display windows. There is a painted advertisement from the turn of the century on the north facade. The present facade is 1920s textured brick. (C) There are no outbuildings on the parcel."

History of Mail Pouch advertising

From 1891 to 1992, the West Virginia Mail Pouch tobacco brand (Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company) paid farmers from $1 - $3 per month to host painted ads on their wooden barns. While they peaked in the 1960s at about 20,000 barns, the ads also appeared on some walls in towns as well, including this one in the historic city of Jonesborough, Tennessee.

The company deployed a small team of sign painters, who became well-known themselves, and were friendly with the farmers they visited every few years to retouch the barns. While farms didn't earn much income from the ads, they did receive the benefit of a painted barn.

The Mail Pouch advertising program ended in 1992 when their last sign painter, Harley Warrick, decided to retire.

The painted ads were preserved as historic artifacts in the 1960s, when the Highway Beautification Act limited the number of ads allowed along American highways.



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