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The Golden Age of Cigar Box Art
|"QUANTUM SHOT" #828 |
Link - article by Simon Rose
Elaborate Vintage Cigar Box Labels: A Plethora of Themes and Visual Curiosities
The collecting of cigar boxes is, like the collecting of stamps and coins, a specialized field of interest. Peculiar Postage, which previously appeared here on Dark Roasted Blend, was not intended as a detailed study of stamps, merely a look at some of the more curious examples. Similarly, the following article examines just a small selection of some of the most striking cigar box artwork from years gone by.
(images in this article, unless otherwise noted, are courtesy Cigar Box Labels; used by permission)
Originally, cigars were sold to customers in bundles covered with pigs' bladders, if you can believe it...
This hardly seems guaranteed to drive sales, but you’ll be relieved to know that vanilla was used to make this pork packaging smell a little sweeter. Large chests that could hold around 1,000 stogies were next introduced, but by the 1830s, cigars were being packaged in sealed cedar boxes.
Cedar apparently stops the cigars from drying out and matures the tobacco as well, but either way it sounds like a distinct improvement on the bacon bladders. Between 1800 and 1960, wood was used to create around 80% of cigar boxes. The most common variety, called “nailed wood”, comprises six pieces of wood nailed together and holds 50 cigars.
(images in this article are courtesy Cigar Box Labels, used by permission)
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the industry had grown so much that it became necessary to distinguish one cigar brand from another. Labels began to appear featuring colourful illustrations, so that cigar manufacturers could set themselves apart from their competitors and attract more customers.
As with any industry’s advertising, fashions and themes came and went. Famous people, politicians, mythological figures, pretty girls, children, patriotic figures and themes, animals, humour and more, were all used over the years to decorate cigar boxes. Here at Dark Roasted Blend, we spotlight just a tiny fraction of the multitude of labels produced during the golden age of cigar box art.
The old gentleman on the right (see below) certainly appears to be enjoying his cigar. Old Nick himself on the left might be trying to promote a devilishly good brand, but could just as easily serve as an advertisement for the evils of tobacco. Still, I guess he’d never have any trouble finding a light for his cigar when he’s relaxing at home, especially with all those flames around him in the underworld:
Animals of various kinds were often used in cigar box art. Camels were quite closely associated with some tobacco products and here’s one happily racing across the desert in Egypt. No doubt located very far from the desert, we find this rather aristocratic looking frog on this label from 1901. He certainly appears to be very content, or at least as content as a frog can look, on his comfy leaf by the pond:
More animals here, with the hippo perhaps proclaiming his love and support for Zeko stogies with a defiant roar. These cigars were made in Cleveland, where hippos would have rarely been spotted back then, unless you were visiting the zoo or if maybe there was a circus in town. Not convinced of hippo expertise when it comes to cigars, the woman on the right seems to be getting advice on tobacco products straight from the horse’s mouth:
Fidel Castro is of course always cited as one of the most famous cigar smokers. However, he apparently did quit some years ago, showing leadership in an effort to persuade his fellow countrymen to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Intriguingly, the picture on the left promotes Cuban cigars using another Castro, who I guess could be distant ancestor of the famous president. On the right, the union being celebrated by Uncle Sam and his friends concerns the events in Cuba at the time of the Spanish American War in 1898. This friendliness seems in marked contrast to relations between the U.S. and Cuba in more recent decades.
The Cuban Cavalier (left) would no doubt never have contemplated followed the country’s flag into battle without having a supply of cigars close at hand. On the right, the picture is a recreation of a painting of the pioneers responsible for the first Trans-Atlantic cable, at their meeting in New York in 1854:
Over a century separates the images depicted here. The Council of War on the left shows George Washington and his fellow revolutionaries prior to the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The right picture honours army and navy commanders in the Spanish-American War in 1898:
Also related to the Spanish-American War, on the left we see President William McKinley (1843 to 1901), who after the war turned the United States into a colonial power. Perhaps to celebrate the birth of this new empire, Uncle Sam is shown (right) showering the world in cigars. Fitting in many ways, since cigars used to be handed out by the proud father to male friends and relatives to celebrate the birth of a child. Hard to believe nowadays that all that smoking used to take place in hospitals in close proximity to new born babies and their recovering mothers. How times have changed:
In another celebration of history, George Washington (1732 to 1799) is featured on this label, along with Native Americans and a scene depicting the general crossing the Delaware in 1776 during the Revolutionary War. On the right, the label portrays the early days of the U.S. mail service using the expanding nation’s burgeoning railroads, when items could be delivered from Delaware to just about anywhere else in the country, at what was then probably considered to be lightning speed:
Here we have two people who died almost a century apart and who both had significant impacts on history. On the left, we have Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 to 1791) one of the world’s most renowned composers, who influenced countess other musicans both during his lifetime and after his untimely death at the age of 35. On the right is Otto von Bismarck (1815 to 1898), who united Germany into a powerful Empire in 1871 and dramatically changed the European balance of power. His career also had a lasting legacy, well into the following century and is still being felt today. Not sure how fond Mozart was of cigars, but apparently Bismarck used to smoke up to 14 a day. That’s quite a formidable contribution to the tobacco industry, when you think about it. No wonder someone thought it was appropriate to honor him by putting his picture on the lid of the box:
This label (left) features Oliver Cromwell (1599 to 1658), depicted as a man of the people after his success in the English Civil War and the execution of King Charles I. However, since under his regime the Puritans clamped own on the revelry of such things as Christmas, I’m not sure if he’d have been in favour of cigars at all. On the right is Sir Walter Scott (1771 to 1832), the Scottish novelist and poet who was very popular in his time for such novels as Ivanhoe and Rob Roy. Scott can still be seen regularly today, since his portrait is featured on Scottish banknotes:
Mr. Riley doesn’t exactly look ecstatic, but perhaps he could turn on the charm when needed for his customers, since they all evidently thought so highly of him. William Gladstone (1809 to 1898) was one of the best known of Britain’s Prime Ministers in the reign of Queen Victoria. Not sure how he felt about cigars, but he was very religious and introduced restrictions on the sale of alcohol and the licensing of pubs and bars, so he may not have spoken as highly of Mr. Riley, had the two men been acquainted with each other.
With Rip Van Winkle offering a toast and hoping that we all will live long and prosper, you’d almost expect him to be giving that famous Mr. Spock Vulcan hand signal. Mr. Van Winkle, of course, fell asleep and awoke many years later, becoming a time traveler of sorts. The prophet (right) made a living by seeing the future as well, while staying firmly in the present as he doubtless consulted his crystal ball, books, star charts and other divination tools.
The man on the left certainly seems to be enjoying his cigar and could even be attempting to send smoke signals. The Buccaneer doesn’t look too happy at all. Perhaps he’s waiting for his stogie supply to be delivered by those ships in the background? -
He appears to be very satisfied (left) with his luxurious smoke, don’t you think? On the right, at first glance this seems like quite an odd name for a cigar brand. After all, if the woman on the left has received a letter and her friend is offering her condolences, you’d expect them to be wearing sadder expressions, wouldn’t you? However, who knows what’s written in that letter. Maybe she’s just heard that an exploding Prime cigar killed the husband she loathed? -
Here’s another happy gentleman, although there’s no indication of what people around him thought to the aroma of his “fine fragrant cigar.” Not sure if the fellow on the right was an actual judge or otherwise employed in the legal profession, but he looks prosperous enough:
The Bull Frog label (left) is another fine example of the wonderful illustrations that so often graced cigar boxes. I’m not sure how big a factor it would have been in the sales of the cigars, but you have to admire the quality of the artwork. Another famous historical figure, Buffalo Bill (1846 to 1917) appears on the left picture, possibly in an attempt to make cigars appear manly and heroic? -
This German label (left) wishes ‘Good Hunting’ to the man presumably having a relaxing smoke, before heading out to find some deer in the woods. The right image commemorates Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838 to 1917) the aviation pioneer, although I don’t think he would have sanctioned cigar smoking on board the airship. A stray spark could have been disastrous, due to the inflammable fuel. Then again, maybe that’s what happened to the Hindenburg? -
(images credit: Cerebro.com)
Another German label (left), this time promoting good health, may seem somewhat inappropriate, considering the smoking and drinking that’s going on, although the frothing beer does looks tempting. On the other hand, the brand name of the cigars on the right seems highly appropriate, since a pile of white ash is always the end result:
Today, it seems surprising, to put it mildly, that children were often used to advertise cigars in years gone by, as shown in these two examples. The dangers of smoking were not fully understood back then or at least not as publicized as they are now. Still, the boy in the right picture certainly doesn’t look old enough to be smoking, as he accepts a light from a girl who looks to be scarcely older than him.
The left image features an angelic ideal of childhood, in order to somehow boost sales of Yankee Boy cigars. In stark contrast, the picture on the right maybe portrays a more realistic portrayal of American youth at the time, or at least as far as the criminal world was concerned. This streetwise kids gang is masterminding the robbery of a cigar store, bizarrely using an angry goat as a secret weapon.
This is an interesting one on the left. As handy as it would be to have a reliable light for your stogie, it’s tough to imagine how you could actually do that while holding the cigar and the rapidly burning match in the same hand simultaneously. Maybe this person is about to light someone else’s cigar? On the right, we have yet another child appearing in a cigar promotion, but at least this time she just looks curious as to what grandpa is up to, rather than smoking the cigar herself.
(images credit: Cerebro.com)
Whale-Back (left) refers to an ocean going vessel, rather than an aquatic mammal, but the manufacturers were still hoping to appeal to potential customers by stressing the whale of a time you’d have with this particular cigar. I wonder if this particular brand was bigger than all the competitors too? On the right, this picture doesn’t describe some strange culinary creation, but a boat or ship serving the German city of Hamburg:
And finally, these two labels are both very curious. On the left, we have a monk eating oysters, washed down with red wine and accompanied by a smoldering cigar. The right image is very strange too and after a first glance at the title, you might assume that the woman is attending college after a funeral. However, on closer inspection we can see that she’s waving the flag for the football team and presumably is frequently left alone, like a golf widow, I suppose:
(unless otherwise noted, images in this article are courtesy Cigar Box Labels, used by permission)
Article by Simon Rose for Dark Roasted Blend.
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