Yard sale pick in Virginia yields century-old pack of Northeastern-branded cigarettes

Photos Courtesy of Adam Yates and Melissa Butman

Adam Yates is 23 and works as a freelance graphic designer. His girlfriend, Melissa Butman, will turn 22 next month and is between jobs. The couple lives in Winchester, Virginia, a city of 28,000 in the Shenandoah Valley about 90 minutes west of Washington, D.C.

Until recently, they didn’t know the Northeastern University story, but may have unexpectedly added another page on the morning of June 4. That’s when some time to kill included a stop at a neighbor’s yard sale. 

There, amid the usual suspects—clothes, kids’ toys and household goods—was an old pack of cigarettes and a paper pouch of Union Workman chewing tobacco.

They quickly offered the owner $10 if she bundled the pair, the offer was accepted, and the amateur pickers happily hustled away with a little slice of Husky history. They just didn’t know it at the time. 

Union Workman is a known tobacco brand, but the cigarettes were a mystery. The words “NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY” were printed on the front of the pack below the university’s seal. 

“We just thought the cigarettes were really cool,” Butman told News@Northeastern.

So, they did what many people do with cool things, they posted photos of the antique smokes on social media. The post was shared by others on Reddit, Twitter and Facebook, followed by dozens of comments, many from Northeastern students and alumni.

Some comments were practical. They suggested Butman and Yates reach out to the university for more information, which they did.

Others were funny. 

“Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em boys,” one read, referencing the saying made popular in the military during World War II.

Another read, “These smokes are definitely no longer ‘smooth.’”

The packaging claims the cigarettes include “carefully blended” tobacco that will “produce a mild smoke.”

The packaging also reveals other details. They were manufactured by Charles C. Goodfellow, 81 Washington St., New York, for Northeastern students and sold at the Conservatory Pharmacy, 286 Huntington Ave. in Boston.

That address no longer exists. A building owned by the New England Conservatory, built in 1959, now stands in the shadow of Matthews Arena at the intersection of Huntington and Gainsborough.

The cigarettes were produced by the manufacturer for the pharmacy, not Northeastern, which has been smoke-free since 2012. Some other information is not as straightforward.

According to his obituary in the New York Times, Goodfellow was an authority on tobacco and a former buyer for the Tobacco Products Corporation of Turkey. He also worked for M. Melachrino & Co., according an entry in the U.S. Tobacco Journal from July 1921. In 1924, he authored a story bragging about the quality of Turkish tobacco. He died in Cransford, New Jersey, in 1964.

The 20 cent Class A tax stamp attached to the top of the pack includes the portrait of DeWitt Clinton, the former mayor of New York City and New York governor and senator. The stamp suggests the cigarettes were probably sold during the 1920s. Stamps after 1931 were printed with a series number.

The cigarettes were definitely made after 1922 when Northeastern College was renamed Northeastern University. 

“That would be great if they were that old,” Butman said.

Knowing they likely bought them on the cheap, will the couple keep the century-old cigarettes or flip them to the highest bidder? 

Butman said about eight to 10 people in their social networks have asked for a price or offered to buy them. One reader suggested they could be worth a few hundred dollars.

“I think we will probably sell them eventually,” she said. “But I’m not sure…” 

One thing is certain: They won’t be opening the pack. Even if there’s an outside chance it includes a rare baseball card. Those can fetch very high prices but were more common in the decades prior.

A Honus Wagner card issued by the American Tobacco Company in 1909 sold last August for $6.6 million. 

“Some people have mentioned there might be a card inside,” Butman said. “But I think we will keep them sealed for now.”

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu.