Grading Cigar Box labels

Why grade cigar box labels? Before answering this question, we must first look at the history of why grading services came about in the first place.

It all started back the early 1960’s when people began to invest serious money in collectibles, such as; coins and stamps.  Wanting to get the most value out of their collectible, sellers were usually bias in describing the condition of their collectible.   Eventually, there became a rampant practice of over grading and in some cases out right scams of unsuspecting buyers.

Grading services soon sprang to life in order to handle this problem of over grading. The grading services provided unbiased experts in the field, a consistent set of standards, and the ability to protect the collectible so as to prevent further deterioration.

It wasn’t long afterwards that buyers of collectibles insisted on having their items graded.  Eventually, a collectibles ‘Grade’ started to determine the overall worth of a collectible. A higher grade in a collectible could mean thousands of dollars more to the collectibles overall worth. In addition, as the grading services became more sophisticated they began offering additional services such as:  price guides, population reports, daily trading sheets, and investment guidelines for buying and selling.

Today, collectibles such as: coins, stamps, baseball cards, and even cigar box labels, can all be graded by an independent third party grading service.

So should you consider grading your Cigar Box Labels? You should consider grading based on the reasons given above.  But in addition, grading also provides the buyer a level of confidence that the item is authentic, and also provides the seller with a well packaged marketable item.

Today, many buyers will only buy a collectible if it is graded.  There are many reputable grading services including:  Global Cigar Label Grading Service (GCLGS), Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), and Numismatic Guarantee Corporation (NCG) to name only a few.

What should a collector/seller look for in a grading service?  Reputation, cost of using the service, and the value of the collectible after it is graded should all be considered.

Is there any reason not to grade a collectible? Yes, you should consider the tradeoff between the costs of grading versus the value of the collectible itself.

The Famous Lithographers of Cigar Box Labels

In the cigar label world, collectors are attracted to a particular label with a “Certain Look” .  Their fascination might have something to do with the lithographer and how they used detail, or how they used particular shadings of color, or how they  printed  landscapes or portraiture’s.   Each lithographer had his own style, much like a painter that develops his own unique look.  When collectors are asked which lithographer they enjoy  the names you hear  most  often are : Heippenheimer and Maur,  Harris and Sons, George Schlegel, O.L. Schwencke ,  George Schmidt,  and Louis Wagner.  Below are examples of each of these lithographers and what makes their print so unique.

Heippenheimer & Co. 1849-1874. Heippenheimer and Mauer 1874-1885 – On these early Heippenheimer pieces notice the amount of detail and rich shading.

George S. Harris  1847-1892. George opened his lithography business ca. 1847 at 119 North Fourth Street.  These artists were adept at scenes of the old western frontier and landscapes.

O.L. Schwencke  New York City (1870-1880) O.L. Schwenke & Co. New York (1884-1900).  Known for vibrant rich colors, attention to details, and American History.

Geo. Schlegel & Co. New York City (1845-1935). Known for scenes of American folklore and nature.

Schmidt & Co New York City (1874-1916). Known For image transfers of popular figures of their day.

Louis Wagner New York City (1895-195).  Known  for images rich in ancient symbolism:  Gods and Goddesses, and symbols of progress

Early Aviation – A Lofty Subject For Cigar Box Labels

Before the first airplane was invented by the Wright Brothers, inventors in France were making numerous attempts to fly like the birds. Their early inventions included kites, gliders, hot air balloons, and airships.

It just so happened that these early aviation experiments were being developed during the same time as the ‘Golden Age of Cigar Box Labels’ (between 1890 and 1910). Aviation images such as “Aero” were a perfect fit for Cigar Box lids because they fueled the public imagination and stirred up the excitement needed to attract cigar buyers.

The cigar box label “Dayton Flyer” – On December 17, 1903, the Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful manned flight in which a machine carrying a man rose by its own power flew naturally and at even speed, and descended without damage.

The next major advancements in human flight came in response to a contest sponsored by The Daily Mail of London, which offered a prize to the first aviator to fly across the English Channel. Louis Bleroit (1872–1936) won the contest, flying from Calais, France, to Dover, England, on July 25, 1909, in a monoplane of his own design with a 25-horsepower engine. His flight inspired the Cigar Box Label “Cloud Scout”

The American public may have known airplanes best for their acrobatic flying, or aerobatics, in the years immediately following the Wright brothers’ flights because of large cash prizes offered by newspapers. Dubbed the “glorious year of flying,” 1913 was marked by races, competitions, and demonstrations.

Famous pilots such as Charles Lindbergh (1902–1974) spawned two famous Cigar Labels: “World’s greatest Flyer” and “Spirit of St. Louis” Worand Antoine de Saint Exupery (1900–1944) were among the early airmail fliers.

Eventually, the first commercial airlines were developed to carry the public quicker, farther, and cheaper to far off destinations.

The Wild West and Cigar Advertising.

The Old West, often referred to as the Wild West, encompasses the period 1865 – 1885. During this time, thousands of pioneers pushed their way westward in search of land,  some in search of gold and silver, and some to escape the law.  Geographically, the “Old West” applies to those states west of the Mississippi River.

From outlaws to gunfighters, to the American cowboy on the frontier, the Old West provided great subject matter for cigar box labels. The tall tales of the old west and the famous men that were pictured on the cigar box label were enough to attract a cigar smoker.

Meeting the demands of the many Cowboys there were dance halls and saloons. They almost always featured gambling, smoking, and prostitution.  The towns grew quickly, often levying taxes on the cigars provided to the cowboys.

It was here in these old west towns that many famous characters gained or bolstered their reputations. Men such as Col. Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, Kit Carson, John Wesley Hardin and dozens of others.  Cigar Manufacturers were quick to cash in on this fame, creating colorful images of these infamous characters in order to attract customers.

Cigar Box Labels: Are They a Good Investment?

Is a Vintage Cigar Box Label a good investment?  That is a hard question to answer.  Vintage cigar box labels are definitely a unique investment. They also possess several qualities that true investors look for, such as:  are they  a true antique?  are they rare? and do they have a worth?  In addition, there are price guides, selling venues, and people willing to buy and sell at the right price.

However, these reasons alone are not quite enough for the avid investor.  People that invest for a living will tell you that there are three things they look for in a good investment:  growth over time, minimum risk, and ability to execute a sell.

So, let’s take a look at each of these.

Growth over time:

The best place to start is the Instone100. This is a blue chip index of 100 highly sought after vintage  cigar box labels. Average selling prices for each cigar label in the index have been tracked and reported annually for the past ten years. Since they have started tracking, one can readily see, as a whole, that they have gone up steadily each year since 1994.

This charts show that if you invested $4,000 in 1994 the same 100 labels in 2010 are now worth $34,000.  This is a whopping increase of 850%.!

Minimum Risk:

Supposedly the Instone 100  index is an indicator of the entire cigar label market due to its wide range of labels. The labels range  from the relatively inexpensive to a few in the thousands of dollars. In addition, the on-line Astral web site also tracks the recent Market trends in labels that go up in price. The chart below shows, over the past year that many more labels are going up in price then are going down in price.

Ability to Execute a Sell:

The key here is the ability to sell a cigar label for the price that either a price guide or an index says its worth. In this regards, cigar labels are much like coins, and stamps and not so much like rare original works of art.

There are only a few places to sell a cigar label: at an online auction sites like E-bay, at online trading sites like Astral, at auction houses like Heritage auctions, at dealer stores, at antique stores, and at collectible shows. Dealers in this sense are  synonymous for ‘ stock broker’  (or dealer price), while auction houses are bidding venues. All have their advantages and disadvantages. Dealers will usually buy rare or well sought after labels. However, they only offer prices that are lower than a ‘book price’ or ‘retail price’ because they have to make a profit.

Auction houses like ’ Heritage Auction’  usually try to set minimum bid prices, with the hopes the cigar labels will sell over this starting price. Online auction houses like E-bay have no regulations, so they tend to be the low end of selling prices.

Is There Risk: Well, the saying goes  “the only sure things in life are death and taxes” .  There is risk in any investment.  However, the experts that have tracked cigar box label prices over the past twenty years will tell you that as an investment they have  shown slow steady growth, and they can provide data that backs this up. The data shows they are a better investment then if you put the money in the stock market.

How would you know what a good investment opportunity is?   In the business world this is defined as a financial investment that makes a good profit. Millions of people invest in antique, coins, stamps and every other kind of collectible for this reason. Cigar box labels are on par with these kinds of investments.

After having made the case for investing in cigar box labels, I personally would never take one persons advice on an investment opportunity unless I got all the facts. Talk to the people that buy and sell cigar labels; use the internet for research, and start small until you are comfortable.

The best thing about Cigar Box Labels –  it is a hobby for many people and an investment you can actually enjoy while they keep going up in price.

Vintage European Cigar Box Labels

Many of the cigar label collectors in the United States are just not that interested in collecting vintage European Labels.  I’m not sure if this is due to them having a bias for buying American or because many of the European cigar label images do not appeal to American tastes.  It is somewhat unfortunate because most of the European labels were made with high quality standards, and most today are rare (Exist in quantities of less then 500).

European Lithographers were world renown for their high quality standards and the use of leading edge technology. This can best be seen in the cigar label ‘Honor Et Patria’,   a Monument to victor Emmanual in Rome.  Unfortunately, the liberal use of Gold leaf, and heavy embossing  actually make European Labels look a bit gaudy to an American collector.

How can you tell a European label if you see one?

Many of the European cigar labels don’t have titles written on the label. Information about the label title, lithographer, and price were usually attached on the left hand site.  The title would come attached to a set of labels that would go onto a cigar box. Inside Label, Outside label, Lock label, Fly label , were the European equivalent for the U.S. Inner, Outer, nail tag, etc.

In addition, To help identify a European cigar label  a Dep#  was usually placed just below the image. Dep# was short for depose # used to catalogue their labels by number.

It is also not widely known that many European labels had American themes and were created for the U.S. Market.  Eighty percent of labels that were produced for the U.S. and Cuba came from European lithographers. Three German lithographers:  Klingenberg , Moeller –Kokeritz and Herman Scott maintained New York offices between 1900-1914.  Between 1918 and 1939 many of the U.S.  lithographery companies subcontracted  their labels to German Lithographers.  A.C. Henschel of Chicago or C.B. Henschel of Milwaukee used Klinenberg and others in Europe.

Many brands were created only for the European marketer.  Brans the European cigar manufacturers   promoted were not for the American smoker.  Cigar Labels images were mostly European themes which did not appeal to the American Tastes.  A few examples  of European labels include:  ‘ ‘Honor Et Patriot’  -a monument to victor Emmanual in Rome,  ‘Radius ‘ – a volcano blowing its top  , ‘Dick Cop’ – a tiny man carrying a big cigar and  Aeroplane – a flying cigar.

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Where to start a Cigar Box Label Collection: Instone100, Cigar Label 500

If you are new to Cigar Box Label Collecting,  the task of finding information and knowing where to start can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.

Acquiring a cigar box label is easier than ever. Every day,  on-line dealer sites and on-line auction sites  sell hundreds of cigar box labels  and many people can even run across cigar labels  at antique stores, estate sales, and garage sales.  Collectors can choose between literally tens of thousands of label titles at a variety of prices. Information is everywhere – type in’ cigar box label’  on ‘Google’ and you will get dozens of cigar label sites.  They include: cigar box label books,  price guides, forums,   blogs,  and ‘You-Tube’  videos, all available for the curious collector.

There also exists two cigar box label lists (Indexes) that can be helpful: the Instone100 and the Cigar Label 500.

The oldest most respected index is the Instone 100. This list has been around for over 10 years, and is a compilation of very desirable and highly sought-after cigar label art representing a diverse sampling of themes. This index is updated annually for price changes and can be used as a tool to track future price movements. It is a product of years of research, surveys, and discussions with other dealers and collectors. The list includes images like: Andy Gump, Cupids Web, Croaker, Club House,  and Round-up.

The newest index is the Cigar Label (CL)  500. Developed  by a group of 20 or so veteran collectors  (called The Group), the CL-500 has been their labor of love for the past six years. The The CL- 500 is composed of many highly sought after cigar labels that didn’t get onto the original instone100 list.  This list contain images that veteran cigar label enthusiasts  enjoy having in their collection.  Cigar Labels on the list include: Covered wagon, Big wolf, Bank Note, General Hartranft, Kleine’s Buzzer, La Boda, Nebraska girl, Speculator, Pony post ,and Yankees just to name a few. This list is a diverse mixture of Inners and Outers, in a reasonable price ranges, and a variety of themes. A few of the Cigar Labels on the list include: Covered wagon, Big wolf,  Nebraska girl, Speculator, and  Pony Post.

Both lists can be found at http://www.instoneinc.com.

So now you know where to start. The next question is -How do you know if you are getting a good deal? Both the Instone100 and CL-500   have been thoroughly researched for the latest list prices. This is the price any collector should be able to acquire these labels for in the average condition.