The Golden Age of the Cigar Label Begins

Cigar manufacturers of the mid 19th century knew little about advertising. People found out about cigar products through newspapers, or signs in merchant windows.  Many depended on word of mouth or smokers who frequented taverns or cigar stores. Cigar smoking did not really boom in the United States until after Civil War with individual brands emerging by the late 19th century. By then the cigar had become a status symbol in the United States.

People enjoyed cigars and they became a part of the upper classes leisure activities so much so that hotels and clubs were building special rooms for smoking. In addition, there were smoking railroad cars. The after-dinner stogie, accompanied by glasses of port or brandy, became a tradition.

By 1875 cigar consumption had reach 5 billion cigars annually. Official U.S. government tax records said 48 cigars were smoked a year for every man, woman, and child in the U.S.

With the completion of the transatlantic railroad goods traveled quicker and with more frequency. Goods were mass produced, and shipped to all parts of the country. These rapid and complex changes in the American marketplace required that cigar manufacturers develop a new strategy to entice consumers into buying their products. Advertising was the answer.

Putting attractive labels on the inner lids of cigar boxes was used as point of sale technique. They acted as miniature billboards, competing with each other to attract the passing eye of the customer.

What theme or image might impress the customer to buy? Many manufacturers thought it would be the news of the day, or popular phrases , or humorous images, or depictions of pretty women, or the growing cult of celebrity in politics, sports, entertainment and the military.

In 1879  Inventory was taken at Heppenheimer & Maurer, one of the more important New York City lithographic establishment, included 25,000 registered lithographic stones, 7,000,000 cigar labels, created by 22 on-the-premises artists. The tobacco tax accounted for one-third of Federal revenue. 40% came from cigars smoking.

By 1886 New York City was home to 1,960 cigar factories.  California was home to 385 cigar factories and Florida was home to 154 cigar factories.

The ability to mass produce,  sell anywhere in the country, and advertise on site triggered the Golden Era of cigar labels. Cigar labels became a show in themselves: they entertained, they informed, and they amused.


Reflections of America’s Past

Like many people I often wonder what it would be like living  in the late 19th century. Living in homes with oil lamps, going to work with a horse and carriage, reading news of our wild west, and being thrilled with  amazing new inventions.   We take for granted much of our American heritage. Luckily, starting around 140 years ago, we have the next best thing to photographs – the detailed images of cigar labels. All one has to do is look at the cigar label images of that period to see and feel the nostalgia of our great American history. Cigar labels were created for almost every significant American event. Here are just a few cigar labels depicting the colorful events of the 1870’s & 1880’s

fire fighters1871 Chicago fire of October 8-11 caused by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.

1872 Yellowstone National Park becomes first national park.

3117 - natures wonders - inner

Gold nugge2t1875 Gold discovered in the Sioux holy grounds of Black Hills s South Dakota.

1875 First running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, May 17.

Kentucky Derby

early cigar label - Custer1876 Custer makes his way into history being massacred at Little Big Horn.

1876 Frontiersman “Wild Bill” Hickok is shot and killed, August 2, playing poker.

wild bill hickock

edsonia1877 Thomas Alave Edison  invents the phonograph.

1877 Crazy Horse dies in a Nebraska prison from stab wounds.


1881, Sioux Indian leader Sitting Bull fugitive surrenders to federal troops; July 20.


1884  Statue of Liberty presented by France, construction required ten years.

statue of liberty

grover cleveland1885 Grover Cleveland takes oath of office on March 4 as 22nd President, 1st term.

1887 Seventy African Americans are known to have been lynched


trolley1888 Richmond, Virginia, introduces first Electric streetcars.

The Cigar Label Salesman and His Books

cigar salesman

As the public demand for cigars increased so did the interest in cigar label art.  By the early 1880’s, most of the cigar label production had shifted from small towns to large printing firms on the east coast such as: Louis E. Newman , O.L. Schwencke, and Heppenheimer & Mauer. It soon became apparent they would have to hire salesmen to not only show there products but also seduce a cigar maker into the themes of their labels.  Hence was born the Cigar Box Label Salesman.

sample book 1At the same time, small catalogues or Sample Books were created to display the variety of label themes available.

Each Sample label would list each type of label, their prices, and the minimum order number. With many themes to choose from the cigar maker could uniquely tailor a brand of cigar that would attract repeat customers. Most of these labels were either stock labels or labels that could be created upon receiving an order.

A  label salesman, who may have represented several companies, would carry several books of sample labels. These oblong books were merely a stack of one printer’s samples bound on the left side. Paper-bound books would have eight to 10 sample labels, while the hardbound copies could contain 100 to 200 sample labels

sAmple image3New brands of labels were created somewhat haphazardly. Larger cigar manufacturers were able to order many different themes, buying lots of up to 100,000 labels, but smaller cigar makers could only afford a simple, two or three color label or a stock pictorial label that was printed in large lots with no brand name.

sample label2

stock label

Hotels across America catered to salesmen. These picture of salesmen and the hotel letter heads were found in the files of one cigar company.

cigar salesmencigar hotels