Civil War Generals and Cigar Label Advertising

After the civil war ended, one of the most popular themes that appeared on cigar box labels was that of the civil war general.  There was an obvious reason for this – a picture of a civil war general personified the rough, tough image of  a  cigar smoking man.  In addition,  there were also more subtle reasons why the cigar manufacturers used civil war generals.  First, anything to do with the civil war may have brought feelings of pride for some men. The civil war had just ended and everyone had been emotionally affected by it one way or another.  Second, during the war, tobacco had been given to the soldiers as part of their rations.  Smoking tobacco in one form or another caused many men to become addicted.    Lastly, the men who served during the civil war had respected their leaders so it was an ideal subject for a cigar box label.

Today, many Cigar Box Label Collectors enjoy collecting ‘anything to do’ with the civil war. It appeals to their sense of history, as well as, offers them a variety of labels that have a wide range of prices to choose from.  If you are new to cigar label collecting, Civil War Generals are a great place to start. Many are still available for purchase at reasonable prices and also can be found on all the major auction sites.

For example:  Inner cigar labels with an image of a civil war general can be bought anywhere from fifty dollars (“Farragut” and “Hartranft”) up to hundreds of dollars(“Gettysburg Commanders” and “Fellow Citizens”).


Fremasonry and Cigar Box Labels

It’s amazing how Cigar box labels artists had a never ending source of subject matter to draw from for cigar box labels. By the late 19th century no subject was off limits for a cigar label artists as long as the image would sell cigars. Hence, Freemasonry became perfect subject matter because of its richness in symbolism and its appeal to the many men that belonged to these fraternal Organizations.

The occult symbolism in Freemasonry came directly from a fountainhead of ancient Egyptian mysticism and contained hidden meanings that the cigar label artists loved to use on cigar labels.

Take for example the Inner Cigar Box Label Trimble Lodge “117”. A holy bible sits on an alter of masonry, and upon the bible sits a square and a compass.  If you take a closer look you will also see the letter “G”, an all seeing eye, three candles in the shape of a triangle, a trowel and a slipper.

All these symbols have dualistic meanings. The square, the compass and the trowel were all tools used by the masons in their work but they also represented a more hidden meaning of the righteousness and divine. A compass represented the heavens or mans wisdom of conduct, the square represented the earth or mans virtue of conduct (morality), and the trowel represented the spreading of brotherly love and affection.  The “G” and all Seeing Eye represented god.  The three candles in the shape of a triangle  represented the great first cause of truth. The slipper represented man’s protective influence for his family. Together they are the symbols of revelation, righteousness, and man’s redemption.

Stone Lithography More Than a Drawing on A Stone

Most cigar box label enthusiasts have a fairly knowledgeable understanding of the lithographic process. Alois Senefelder, the inventor of stone lithography (1776), created a process of drawing images on to a stone surface using greasy inks or crayons. Printing ink was then applied to the stone surface which adhered to the greasy drawing while being repelled by the wet areas. Later chromo-lithography was used where a different stone was used for each color.
What is not too common knowledge is during the mid 19th century there were actually other methods for creating images on a flat stone surface. Many lithographs, including cigar box labels, used a combination of methods. Two examples were Transfer lithography and Photo lithography.
In transfer lithography the design is drawn on special transfer paper and does not require the artist to reverse his or her drawing.  The drawing is made on paper and transferred to a heated stone by pressure.  Next, the surface of the stone untouched by grease is desensitized to it, and the portions drawn upon are fixed against spreading by treatment with a gum arabic and nitric acid solution.The paper image was then transferred (etched) into the stone.
With the invention of photography (1839), a Photo-lithographic process was invented. This discovery eventually lead to the use of the halftone process (the act of breaking down the original photograph into dots of varying sizes that would be suitable to press reproduction). In the Photo-lithographic process the stone surface was treated with light sensitive chemicals (abumen).  A pattern was laid on the stone then exposed to intense light chemically etching the image in half tones on to the stone.  Henry Talbot used the first halftone screen  for the reproduction of photographs around 1852. About 33 years later, Frederick Ives, an American, designed the first practical halftone screen that consisted of two exposed glass negatives with line scribed on each of them. They were then cemented together so that the scribed lines would cross at right angles . This halftone process allowed the reproduction of original photographs into the pattern, thus eliminating the need to draw or engrave them onto a stone or printing plate . This was the a precursor to the Photo-mechanical process, used at the beginning of the 20 th century.
At the beginning of the 20th century techniques improved,  eventually giving way to Photo-mechanical process. Here the photographic image was projected through a special screen and on to a photochemically sensitized printing plate (zinc).

Cigar Box Label Prices What Do They really Mean?

Let’s talk about what pricing Cigar Box labels really means. Recent history is always the best indicator of price. However, because thousands of labels are rare – meaning one of a kind or very few in existence- the price can only be whatever the owner is willing to let the label go for. If a buyer buys it, then that is the price at that point in time. Buying cigar labels is only done in one of two ways – buying them outright from another dealer or collector for an agreed upon price,  or bidding on them in an auction. Unfortunately, auctions can sometimes be a source of anxiety for the buyer. The buyer sees a label and they want it. Unless it is a graded label, they may be unsure of the condition, which makes them unsure of how much to bid.  Obviously, cheaper is better.  However, once they get involved , the excitement can cause a bidding war.  My advice – do the research, and decide on the condition before hand, then set yourself a limit.

When researching prices, most collectors/buyers use only a few trusted resources to price their cigar labels.  I’ll mention just a couple that are used most often.  The first resource is the soft back edition  “The Price Guide Book of Cigar Label Art”. Versions of this book have been around since 1994. The guide has a fair amount of information on the history of labels, and its prices are a strong indicator of how rare a label is.  The nice thing about this price guide is; in each annual edition the prices are updated, based  on the latest selling trends.  In addition, it tracks a Blue Chip cigar label index called  “The Instone 100 “.  Published by Instone – a well respected Cigar Label dealer, it is a compilation of very desirable and highly sought after Cigar labels and can be used as tool to track future price movements.

Another trusted resource is the ‘Astral On-line Price Guide’. It has been around since 2005, and is highly respected among buyers and sellers. There are several good reasons for this: first of all, Astral tracks real selling prices from most of the major auction sites,  second, they have a methodology that prevents wide fluctuations in prices (based on any one individual sale),  and they list prices based on condition. They also state, up front, that selling prices should be based on whatever the buyer and seller can agree on.


There are a few other price guides available today but they are either not as comprehensive,  or their prices do not reflect  recent selling prices as the two aforementioned guides.  A few sellers price their labels based on the highest price they can find. This is unfortunate because this will only fool them into thinking they their label is worth more then it really is.

Pricing for rarer cigar box labels is very much like the pricing of respected artwork. That is where  price guides are at best only a guide.  If there aren’t enough buyers, then it is whatever the market will bear.  One thing to note – rarer labels will always sell. Why? It’s basic supply and demand. When you have a collectible that is truly rare, the numbers of collectors far outnumber the pieces available.

If you think Cigar Labels will continue to rise in price, you would be correct based on the Instone100 index.  However, if you are one of those people hanging on to the more common labels (labels that come in larger quantities), plan on waiting.  Prices are based on many factors including: supply and demand and the economy . This is where guides can help you – to determine trends.  If certain labels are not selling, or they are priced lower then you think they are worth, then you may want to hang on to them or even buy more while the prices are still cheap.  Many older collectors would rather hand them down to their descendents because they know the prices will eventually go up.

Rare Cigar Label  – Price at whatever the Market will bear            Common Cigar Label – Guides are more accurate

In summary, if you are trying to sell or buy more common pieces, then trust the guides that have the most recent pricing. If you have a rarer piece, then price it at whatever you are willing to let it go for.  However, like anything else, if you want it sold you must be willing to take whatever the market will bare.

A Few Rare Treasures Worth Thousands

There are many rare and valuable cigar box label lithographs. However,  in recent years there has been only a  few that have risen to the forefront of  most expensive. Even though these cigar box labels are all rare – there are probably less then five in the world of each one –  it’s their value that sets them apart from other cigar box labels.   What makes them so expensive? There is no obvious answer but a few reasons  come to mind. One, is their historical appeal and overall theme, another is they’re iconic status among knowledgeable collectors. They all have rich vibrant colors and they were all lithographs created during the golden era of cigar labels 1870-1920 .  If you would like to own one of these in good condition expect to pay anywhere from $3000- $150,000.

1874 ‘Boston Red Stockings’ by Nichol’s & MacDonald

1878 ‘The Hit’ by Heppenheimer & Mauer

1889 ‘Golf Links’ by Louis & Newman

1899 ‘Aero’ by George Schlegel

1899 ‘Uwanta’ by American Lithographic Company

1920 ‘The Clown’ by George  Schlegel

The Legends and Pioneers of the Cigar Box Label Collectible

New collectors and investors owe a great debt of gratitude to the legends and pioneers that have salvaged, collected, and promoted cigar box labels throughout the years.  Antique Cigar box labels are being marketed everywhere today.  Vintage Cigar Box labels are auctioned on “E-bay and Heritage Auctions”, and are being sold and traded through many on-line web-sites such as: Instone”, “Cerebro”, “Astral” and “CigarBoxLabels”.  In addition, secondary businesses have emerged that use the cigar box label image on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and shower curtains, all emblazoned with these beautiful images.

In this article I would like to provide a historical and chronological perspective of just a few of the many influential pioneers that are responsible for making the cigar label the respected collectible it is today.

A.D. Faber in 1949 was the first cigar label collector to publish a reference guide on ‘Cigar Label Art’.  The thing that distinguishes Cigar Label Art (and also accounts for its higher price) is the inclusion of a number of original cigar box labels and edgings as tip-in’s

Mark Trout is a legend in the cigar label community.  Born in New Jersey in the 1940’s Mark became interested in old paper in the early 1970’s. As the legend goes, Mark frequented the East Coast throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, traveling through New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  This is where he located old factories and picked through the trash bins looking for old paper. He soon discovered a cash of “Old Cigar Box” labels.  With Mark’s keen eye for old ephemera he knew instantly that the age, beauty, and depth of color of these old relics far exceeded many of the other paper collectibles he had acquired.   As one of the original full time ‘pickers’ of cigar box labels,  Mark literally saved tens of thousands of vintage Cigar Box labels from being destroyed in the landfills. He has been nick named “The Johnny Appleseed” of cigar labels.  Mark’s knowledge also included the history of these labels – he identified many of the old U.S. Label lithographers and the dates of their label production.   Without Marks passion for these original lithographs, the wide variety and quantity would not be available today for the enjoyment of collectors.

Joe and Sue Davidson are among the earliest collectors of cigar labels and author of the first books on the cigar box label, ‘the Art of the Cigar Label’ and ‘Smokers Art’.  Joe Davidson has been written up in the “Wall Street Journal” and appeared on Public TV for his successes in the marketing and collecting of rare and antique art. The book  the “Art of the Cigar Label” went into 6 consecutive printings & sold over 180,000 copies before Joe and Sue wrote “Smoker’s Art”.

Wayne Dunn discovered the beauty of cigar Labels in the early 1990’s. As a sales and marketing executive Wayne understood the marketing potential of these museum quality works of art. He soon educated himself on the history of stone lithography and became addicted to collecting. By the late 1990’s Wayne published the “1998 Cigar Label Art Visual Encyclopedia” and the first alphabetical cigar label price guide that is still used today to help guide collectors in the pricing of cigar labels.

Ed Barnes a computer software engineer and also a cigar label collector worked with Wayne Dunn in the 1990’s to create a visual encyclopedia of Cigar Labels and a CD ROM.  He also created the first cigar label news letter called the ‘Cigar Label Gazette’.

John Grossman is a renowned design artist, collector and author of ‘Labeling America –  Popular Culture On Cigar Box Labels’. He was also the creator of the “Gift line” of products where he beautifully transferred many of the ‘Golden Age’ cigar label images onto a score of various products such as ashtrays, gift wrap and mugs.    

Tony Hyman – avid collector of rare collectibles and spokesman for cigar boxes and cigar box labels, founder of the on-line ‘National Cigar Museum.He has promoted cigar labels through articles and speaking engagements.

Dr. Gerald Petrone is a San Diego physician who, many years ago, became addicted to tobacco advertising. He has written several books on Cigar Labels including:  “Tobacco Advertising: The Great Seduction,” giving readers a general overview of promotional techniques and gimmickry used by the tobacco industry from 1860-1930 and “Cigar Box Labels-Portraits of Life, Mirrors of History,” where he touches upon the birth of the cigar box labels, America’s cigar label industry and branding

Sid Emerson and Ken Nichols, have beenpioneers in cigar labels since the late 1980’s. They have traveled extensively searching for cigar labels and have both acquired sizable collections. Sid and Ken are avid spokesmen for the cigar label community.  Sid and Ken along with Judy Hill,  Chip Brooks,  Si Bass,  Ron Mcwhorter, and other  enthusiasts founded the ‘Cigar Label Society’ in Southern California.  Sid and Ken attend and promote cigar labels at the Long Beach Collectibles show.

Major Si Bass (U.S. Army retired) has been a cigar label enthusiast since the 1980’s and a patriotic and military guru, author of “Patriotic Cigar Label Arthe has promoted cigar label art by speaking at the Cigar Label Society meetings and promoting cigar labels at the Long Beach collectibles show.

Chip Brooks alias “Cigar Label Junkie” has been an enthusiast since 1972 and has written a number of articles in the “Cigar Label Gazette”.  He shares the beauty of these wonderful works of art in miniature, at the “Cigar Label Junkie” Website.

Tommy Vance has one of the largest cigar label collections in Florida and is a spokesman and writing contributor the ’Cigar City Gazette’  in Ybor city.

Dave Beach enthusiast since the 80’s, isauthor of ‘Antique Cigar Label Art’ where he displays his rare collection of Cigar labels in beautiful detailed color.

Jay T. Last author of ‘The Color Explosion:  Nineteenth-Century American Lithography from the J.T. last Collection’.  He made his antique lithography collection available for display at the famous Huntington Library.

Rupert Knowles has had an affair with antique cigar boxes and other tobacciana since the 1990’s. Rupert is a reprographer and has one of the largest cigar box collections in the world and has helped promote cigar boxes and cigar labels through articles.  Since 2001 he has continued to Edit and produce the “Price Guide Book of Cigar Label Art’ .

Mike Bianco in 2000 founded the ‘ Instone 100’ , a blue chip cigar label index . The ‘Instone 100’ is a compilation of very desirable and highly sought-after cigar label art representing a diverse sampling of themes. This index is updated annually for price changes and can be used as a tool to track future price movements.  He was also the founder of the ‘Cigar Label Art Digest’ and edits and updates “The Price Guide Book of Cigar Label Art”.

Terry  Celano has been a cigar label enthusiast  since the early 1980’s. In 2005 he founded the first on-line price guide and cigar label trading site. The ‘Astral On-line Price Guide’ is an up-to-date price guide that tracks cigar label selling prices on a daily basis. It provides a daily snapshot of the market with graphical displays of the latest trends. He also created the online ‘Cigar Label Forum’ where the cigar label community can ask questions, provide information, and discuss the latest cigar label news.

David Freiberg is a long time collector of Cigar box labels and other paper ephemera. In the early eighties printed one of the first hard copy price guides.

Ron Anzack artistic framing artist of cigar labels, has written informative articles for  “ E-Bay” and has created a website of visual images and general price guide.

The Dark Side of Cigar Box Labels

Racism, bigotry, vanity, repressed sexual fantasy, these are all themes that were used on 19th century vintage cigar box labels to help promote the idea of white male supremacy.  Anthropologists of the day treated people as racial specimens measuring everything from facial features to cephalic brain size to prove the white man was the superior race. Blacks, Indians, Mongolians, and Women, were all depicted as inferior to the white man.

The word savage was used to denote indigenous peoples.

Western views on the history of the world also had a definite white man’s slant. From Greece to Rome, to Western Europe and America the history of the world left vast gaps,  relegating non-white cultures to minor and insignificant.

In the latter half of the 19th century, Victorian ideals dominated the domestic sphere.

Society forced citizens to repress their sexuality and sensual feelings. Amidst the social forces that restricted the lives of men and women alike cigar box labels emerged as an outlet for self expression. Men could now openly fantasize about the sexual pleasures and keep it in the confines of the men only club.