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.