The Cigar Box Billboard

In  1863 the Federal Government mandated all cigar makers to box their cigars. The reason, of course, the government needed revenue to pay for the civil war (some things just never change). Neither Congress nor the IRS placed restrictions on cigar quality, ingredients, selling price or on what could be said, claimed or pictured on a box of cigars. But the government wanted it’s money so for the first time, the U.S. government mandated cigars to be in cigar boxes with a tax stamp sealed over the lid. cigar box tax stamp

If this lid was broken and the box refilled then the merchant could wind up paying a hefty fine . Cigar box with early tax stamp.

Just think, if the government hadn’t mandated boxing cigars, there probably would not have been very many cigar box labels. Anyhow, the cigar makers needed to figure out what to do with a blank box. Initially, cigar makers were stuck in their old ways; they did not see the value of the cigar box for advertising. Most cigar makers just burnt their brand on the box. However, within a short time some entrepreneurial cigar maker decided if they created an attractive label to put on the box it would attract customers.  The Outer Cigar label was born around 1860.

cigar box early 1866- grantThe U.S. cigar industry single handily turned the first few decades after the Civil War into the most important period in the history of  advertising and package design. Selling cigars became an outrageous free-for-all involving hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, each convinced he had the best ideas for separating smokers from their nickels.  The inside of cigar boxes evolved from blank paper to a magnificent billboard upon which every ploy used by modern advertisers was first tried. Left is an outer label from the 1860’s. Bottom is an Inner Cigar box label after 1870.

cigar box - 1880 magnolia


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