Grading Cigar Box labels

Why grade cigar box labels? Before answering this question, we must first look at the history of why grading services came about in the first place.

It all started back the early 1960’s when people began to invest serious money in collectibles, such as; coins and stamps.  Wanting to get the most value out of their collectible, sellers were usually bias in describing the condition of their collectible.   Eventually, there became a rampant practice of over grading and in some cases out right scams of unsuspecting buyers.

Grading services soon sprang to life in order to handle this problem of over grading. The grading services provided unbiased experts in the field, a consistent set of standards, and the ability to protect the collectible so as to prevent further deterioration.

It wasn’t long afterwards that buyers of collectibles insisted on having their items graded.  Eventually, a collectibles ‘Grade’ started to determine the overall worth of a collectible. A higher grade in a collectible could mean thousands of dollars more to the collectibles overall worth. In addition, as the grading services became more sophisticated they began offering additional services such as:  price guides, population reports, daily trading sheets, and investment guidelines for buying and selling.

Today, collectibles such as: coins, stamps, baseball cards, and even cigar box labels, can all be graded by an independent third party grading service.

So should you consider grading your Cigar Box Labels? You should consider grading based on the reasons given above.  But in addition, grading also provides the buyer a level of confidence that the item is authentic, and also provides the seller with a well packaged marketable item.

Today, many buyers will only buy a collectible if it is graded.  There are many reputable grading services including:  Global Cigar Label Grading Service (GCLGS), Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), and Numismatic Guarantee Corporation (NCG) to name only a few.

What should a collector/seller look for in a grading service?  Reputation, cost of using the service, and the value of the collectible after it is graded should all be considered.

Is there any reason not to grade a collectible? Yes, you should consider the tradeoff between the costs of grading versus the value of the collectible itself.


The Famous Lithographers of Cigar Box Labels

In the cigar label world, collectors are attracted to a particular label with a “Certain Look” .  Their fascination might have something to do with the lithographer and how they used detail, or how they used particular shadings of color, or how they  printed  landscapes or portraiture’s.   Each lithographer had his own style, much like a painter that develops his own unique look.  When collectors are asked which lithographer they enjoy  the names you hear  most  often are : Heippenheimer and Maur,  Harris and Sons, George Schlegel, O.L. Schwencke ,  George Schmidt,  and Louis Wagner.  Below are examples of each of these lithographers and what makes their print so unique.

Heippenheimer & Co. 1849-1874. Heippenheimer and Mauer 1874-1885 – On these early Heippenheimer pieces notice the amount of detail and rich shading.

George S. Harris  1847-1892. George opened his lithography business ca. 1847 at 119 North Fourth Street.  These artists were adept at scenes of the old western frontier and landscapes.

O.L. Schwencke  New York City (1870-1880) O.L. Schwenke & Co. New York (1884-1900).  Known for vibrant rich colors, attention to details, and American History.

Geo. Schlegel & Co. New York City (1845-1935). Known for scenes of American folklore and nature.

Schmidt & Co New York City (1874-1916). Known For image transfers of popular figures of their day.

Louis Wagner New York City (1895-195).  Known  for images rich in ancient symbolism:  Gods and Goddesses, and symbols of progress

Cigar Box Labels: Are They a Good Investment?

Is a Vintage Cigar Box Label a good investment?  That is a hard question to answer.  Vintage cigar box labels are definitely a unique investment. They also possess several qualities that true investors look for, such as:  are they  a true antique?  are they rare? and do they have a worth?  In addition, there are price guides, selling venues, and people willing to buy and sell at the right price.

However, these reasons alone are not quite enough for the avid investor.  People that invest for a living will tell you that there are three things they look for in a good investment:  growth over time, minimum risk, and ability to execute a sell.

So, let’s take a look at each of these.

Growth over time:

The best place to start is the Instone100. This is a blue chip index of 100 highly sought after vintage  cigar box labels. Average selling prices for each cigar label in the index have been tracked and reported annually for the past ten years. Since they have started tracking, one can readily see, as a whole, that they have gone up steadily each year since 1994.

This charts show that if you invested $4,000 in 1994 the same 100 labels in 2010 are now worth $34,000.  This is a whopping increase of 850%.!

Minimum Risk:

Supposedly the Instone 100  index is an indicator of the entire cigar label market due to its wide range of labels. The labels range  from the relatively inexpensive to a few in the thousands of dollars. In addition, the on-line Astral web site also tracks the recent Market trends in labels that go up in price. The chart below shows, over the past year that many more labels are going up in price then are going down in price.

Ability to Execute a Sell:

The key here is the ability to sell a cigar label for the price that either a price guide or an index says its worth. In this regards, cigar labels are much like coins, and stamps and not so much like rare original works of art.

There are only a few places to sell a cigar label: at an online auction sites like E-bay, at online trading sites like Astral, at auction houses like Heritage auctions, at dealer stores, at antique stores, and at collectible shows. Dealers in this sense are  synonymous for ‘ stock broker’  (or dealer price), while auction houses are bidding venues. All have their advantages and disadvantages. Dealers will usually buy rare or well sought after labels. However, they only offer prices that are lower than a ‘book price’ or ‘retail price’ because they have to make a profit.

Auction houses like ’ Heritage Auction’  usually try to set minimum bid prices, with the hopes the cigar labels will sell over this starting price. Online auction houses like E-bay have no regulations, so they tend to be the low end of selling prices.

Is There Risk: Well, the saying goes  “the only sure things in life are death and taxes” .  There is risk in any investment.  However, the experts that have tracked cigar box label prices over the past twenty years will tell you that as an investment they have  shown slow steady growth, and they can provide data that backs this up. The data shows they are a better investment then if you put the money in the stock market.

How would you know what a good investment opportunity is?   In the business world this is defined as a financial investment that makes a good profit. Millions of people invest in antique, coins, stamps and every other kind of collectible for this reason. Cigar box labels are on par with these kinds of investments.

After having made the case for investing in cigar box labels, I personally would never take one persons advice on an investment opportunity unless I got all the facts. Talk to the people that buy and sell cigar labels; use the internet for research, and start small until you are comfortable.

The best thing about Cigar Box Labels –  it is a hobby for many people and an investment you can actually enjoy while they keep going up in price.

Where to start a Cigar Box Label Collection: Instone100, Cigar Label 500

If you are new to Cigar Box Label Collecting,  the task of finding information and knowing where to start can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.

Acquiring a cigar box label is easier than ever. Every day,  on-line dealer sites and on-line auction sites  sell hundreds of cigar box labels  and many people can even run across cigar labels  at antique stores, estate sales, and garage sales.  Collectors can choose between literally tens of thousands of label titles at a variety of prices. Information is everywhere – type in’ cigar box label’  on ‘Google’ and you will get dozens of cigar label sites.  They include: cigar box label books,  price guides, forums,   blogs,  and ‘You-Tube’  videos, all available for the curious collector.

There also exists two cigar box label lists (Indexes) that can be helpful: the Instone100 and the Cigar Label 500.

The oldest most respected index is the Instone 100. This list has been around for over 10 years, and 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. It is a product of years of research, surveys, and discussions with other dealers and collectors. The list includes images like: Andy Gump, Cupids Web, Croaker, Club House,  and Round-up.

The newest index is the Cigar Label (CL)  500. Developed  by a group of 20 or so veteran collectors  (called The Group), the CL-500 has been their labor of love for the past six years. The The CL- 500 is composed of many highly sought after cigar labels that didn’t get onto the original instone100 list.  This list contain images that veteran cigar label enthusiasts  enjoy having in their collection.  Cigar Labels on the list include: Covered wagon, Big wolf, Bank Note, General Hartranft, Kleine’s Buzzer, La Boda, Nebraska girl, Speculator, Pony post ,and Yankees just to name a few. This list is a diverse mixture of Inners and Outers, in a reasonable price ranges, and a variety of themes. A few of the Cigar Labels on the list include: Covered wagon, Big wolf,  Nebraska girl, Speculator, and  Pony Post.

Both lists can be found at

So now you know where to start. The next question is -How do you know if you are getting a good deal? Both the Instone100 and CL-500   have been thoroughly researched for the latest list prices. This is the price any collector should be able to acquire these labels for in the average condition.

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.

Native Americans in Cigar Label Advertising

It’s ironic,  Native American cigar box labels are some of the most beautiful, colorful and detailed images ever created in advertising. They are definitely highly collectible. However, I have  come to the conclusion that the cigar industry  exploited the native Americans.  Being that  I have some Choctaw blood, I was dismayed to learn how cigar labels helped to stereotype the American Indian.

Images of Native Americans have always been connected with the sale of tobacco. This connection can be traced back to when the American Indians introduced the “Native Plant” to the Europeans.  For the Native American, tobacco had great supernatural power, and smoking was an intimate part of ceremony. Furthermore, nothing could better exemplify the symbolic nature of the Native American peace pipe with its association to smoking.

America dramatized its conflict with the Plains Indians in popular culture back as early as 1885, when Chief Sitting Bull agreed to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  He probably didn’t realize he was about to make a major contribution to the stereotyping of the American Indian and the romanticizing of the American West.  Sitting Bull became a major attraction, as thousands of spectators turned out to catch a glimpse of the infamous “White Man” killer.  Native Americans who performed with the show included Geronimo, Chief Joseph, and Rains In The Face – who reportedly was the Indian who had actually killed General Custer at Little Bighorn. The show featured as many as 1200 performers and hundreds of large animals, including a large herd of buffalo.  With the closing of the American frontier in the late Nineteenth Century and the success of the Wild West Show, Euro-Americans quickly came to see the Native American, especially the Plains Indian, in legendary terms, and as a culture in America’s past.

As soon as the Native American became a non-threat, the “Noble Savage” appeared as a stereotype. Wooden Indians were displayed outside tobacconist shops to attract the attention of customers. Cigar makers used famous chiefs and Indian squaws to their advantage. The Indian Squaw became the “princess,” while the male often became the noble, picturesque warrior: clean, stoic, and dressed in feathers. By connecting the Indian with such products as tobacco and medicine, the consumer endorsed the stereotype of a primitive culture, and cemented the image of the Indian as part of America’s past in the minds of Americans.

Unfortunately, the reposed American Indian was a boom to cigar advertising. Their lithographed images were mass produced in the last half of the 19th Century and became an important symbol of America’s so called “progress”.  Native Americans were widely displayed on cigar boxes and trading cards, and were collected by many Americans because of their often lush, colorful graphics. American Indians, along with other minorities such as; Blacks, and Asians were all marginalized in cigar label advertising in order to foster this sense of White American identity.