Before I go on talking about early cigar box labels, I’d like to a take a little time to talk about Stone lithography and why it was such an ideal match for the cigar maker.
The etymology of lithography goes back to the Greek word for “stone drawing.” It is as much science as it is art. Invented by Alois Senefelder of Austria 1798 and patented as a printing medium in 1799. Originally devised by Senefelder as a process for printing theater scripts, it saw dramatic refinement in the early 19th-century as both a commercial printing process and as a means for artists to print directly from their drawings to make limited edition prints.
Stone lithography was a very easy medium for the artist. The artist used a soft Bavarian limestone as his canvas, drew pictures with greasy crayons, applied ink and Walla!! The stone produced identical copies of his image on paper. How exciting that must have been for the artist. Now, take a budding cigar industry that needed to attract customers. It had to be “love at first site”. Can you imagine the light bulb that went off when the first cigar maker looked at a stone lithograph and said to himself “What a great idea to advertise my cigars”. The artist was let free to use his imagination, apply his artistic skills, and create the most detailed vibrant images ever before seen by the American public!
Chromolithography, or the technique of “printing in colors,” had a dazzling and meteoric life. After centuries of black ink on white paper, chromo-lithography burst onto the American scene about 1840 and then vanished by the 1930s. But during this nearly one hundred year period, chromolithography revolutionized the printing industry and intoxicated the world with lush colorful hues. It transformed cigar box labels, advertising posters and many other types of printed ephemera into eye-catching works of art that proved too beautiful to be thrown away after temporary use.