The Extraordinary Image Makers

So far I have talked quite a bit on the history of cigar labels but who exactly were these artists that created the images on Cigar box Labels and where did they come from? Most were German immigrants, coming from the “Old World”.  They were extraordinary artists that had developed a passion for stone lithography because the process itself had much in common with painting. It enabled artists to use their unlimited imagination, apply their skills, and get paid for something they loved. The results were images of such remarkable beauty that scholars have hailed cigar labels as the highest-quality commercial printing in history.

With the boom of the cigar industry artists were given an unprecedented environment in which to thrive.  The best lithographic artists were located in New York: George Schlegel, O. L. Schwenke, Schmidt & Co., Witsch & Schmitt, Schumacher & Ettlinger and F. Heppenheimers Sons in lower Manhattan and Moehle Litho in Brooklyn. Those seven companies, plus Philadelphia’s George Harris & Sons, accounted for roughly 80 percent of all the cigar labels used in this country.

Heppenheimer & Mauer                                                                                  Witsch & Schmitt

Schmidt & co.                                                                                           Geo. Schelgel

With, all the proliferation of brands and labels you would think the overall process of creating and printing a stone image was easy. However, you would be wrong! It sometimes took months at a cost of several thousands of dollars (remember this was 19th Century money) to develop an image from the start of an idea until the image was ready for printing. The process started with a sketch or painting. Once approved, it was sent to the lithographic department, where a specialist created a key line drawing, a black-and-white interpretation resembling a paint-by-numbers diagram. Staff lithographic artists then translated the drawings onto lithographer’s limestone.

Mohle & Co.

Progressive proofs were developed for each color. Better labels were printed using  12 colors, each requiring a separate stone and press run. After 1890, additional runs were required for embossing and gilding (done with a bronze powder and shoe-shine-type buff wheel). Finally, printers applied their technical skills making final adjustments getting final approval for printing.

What many collectors aren’t aware of is although hundreds of thousands of cigar label images were created the original artwork almost never survived. It was standard practice of printers to destroy the originals as soon as the lithographers had transferred them to stone. If an artist insisted on his work being returned, the paintings were usually defaced or cut.


Famous Cigar Labels From the Turn of the 19th century.

Today, the serious cigar label collector looks for certain images from the golden age of cigar labels. Many labels have become iconic among cigar label collectors. Most love these labels for their images, artwork and history. If you are going to collect, then you want to have at least one of these in your collection. However, as enthusiastic as many collectors are it is still hard to acquire these images because they are rare.  Most are available in quantities of less then couple hundred, and some are only available in 50 or less. You can expect to pay anywhere from $200 up to thousands of dollars for one of these labels. The images displayed are among the more popular subject matter. I also tried to pick a variety of lithographers so you can see the difference in styles.

Below are just a few of the more sought after labels from the late 1890’s to 1900.

Dante – The author of the epic poem ‘Divine Comedy’ a spiritual trip through hell to get to paradise. Said to have been made of 22 colors.

Sulzerburger-Oppenheimer, N. Y.

Lime Kiln Club – A racist portrayal of Blacks in America.  Was an actual club in Detroit, Michigan.

Mensing & Stecher, N.Y.

Fellow Citizens – Two of the most famous Civil War generals. Ulysses S. Grant & Robert E. Lee

Calvert, Litho Co., Detroit

Columbo – Created for the Columbian expo of 1892. Schmidt & Co.

Greater Columbia – Miss liberty spreading her arms across the americas.

American Lithographic Co.

Cupid’s Web – An alluring young woman ready to catch a man in her love web.

O.L. Schwencke

Golfers – An upper class  game of popularity at the turn of the century.

F. Heppenheimer’s Sons

Frontier – A depiction of the harsh life on the new Western Frontiers.

H.B. Grauley

Gold Fields – Depicts the great Klondike Gold Rush in the Northwest Territories

Geo. S. Harris & Sons, N.Y.

Lone Trail – Depiction of the original first American Indian.

Schmidt & Co.

Los Inmortales – Three of the most famous U.S. presidents. Washington, Lincoln, & Grant

Louis C. Wagner& Co, N.Y.

“Auto” – An upper class couple out on a ride, proud of owning one of Americas first cars

Krueger & Braun, N.Y.