The Wild West and Cigar Advertising.

The Old West, often referred to as the Wild West, encompasses the period 1865 – 1885. During this time, thousands of pioneers pushed their way westward in search of land,  some in search of gold and silver, and some to escape the law.  Geographically, the “Old West” applies to those states west of the Mississippi River.

From outlaws to gunfighters, to the American cowboy on the frontier, the Old West provided great subject matter for cigar box labels. The tall tales of the old west and the famous men that were pictured on the cigar box label were enough to attract a cigar smoker.

Meeting the demands of the many Cowboys there were dance halls and saloons. They almost always featured gambling, smoking, and prostitution.  The towns grew quickly, often levying taxes on the cigars provided to the cowboys.

It was here in these old west towns that many famous characters gained or bolstered their reputations. Men such as Col. Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, Kit Carson, John Wesley Hardin and dozens of others.  Cigar Manufacturers were quick to cash in on this fame, creating colorful images of these infamous characters in order to attract customers.

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.

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).

Theatre and Film in Cigar Box Labels

Far fetched?  Many of you may think it’s odd to associate theater and film to cigar box labels. Actually there has been a symbiotic relationship between the cigar industry and the entertainment world that stretches from the late 1800’s up to present day.

Let me explain.  As far back as the 1870’s cigar box labels portrayed actors and actresses. If you remember, cigar smoking was a status symbol for the ‘Upper Class’ and one of the elite’s favorite past times was going to the theater.  Many towns across America had opera houses as their focal point for social activities. Gentlemen and Ladies could be found patronizing theaters and mingling in the lounges. The genteel, while enjoying a good cigar, would chat about the play, and applaud their favorite actors.

Aware of this social behavior, Cigar Manufacturers shrewdly used celebrities to endorse their products and help boost sales. Being seen with a cigar of one your favorite actors was good business for all involved.  There were many actors and actresses that graced the inside of cigar box lids.  Used as min-billboard for the  “who’s who”  of the rich and famous. It gave well-to-do men and women something to blather about.

Below is a  cigar box label from the 1870’s depicting 5 famous stage actresses of their day.

Julia Marlow – American Actress 1868 ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and ‘Romeo & Juliet’

Ellen Terry – English Shakespearean Actress 1865 ‘The Winters Tale’

Elenora Duse – Italian Actress 1870 – Was an innovator of a technique described as ‘Elimination of Self’ to connect with a character & allow expression to occur.

Gabrielle Rejane – French Actress  1868 ‘Zaza’

Agnes Sorma – German Actress 1863 – ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Othello’

As theatre turned to vaudeville which eventually turned to silent film, actors and actresses continued to grace the Cigar Box label.

Lillian Russell – Actress/Opera singer 1881 ‘Pirates of Penzance’

William Gillette – Actor/Playwright/Director – 1894 ‘Sherlock Holmes’

Katy Barry –  Comedic Actress Vaudeville  1902 ‘A Chinese Honeymoon’

Ollie Mack – Comedian Vaudeville/Burlesque  1904

John Drew – Theatre Manager/actor 1865 – Great-great grandfather of Drew Barrymoore

John Barrymore – Silent Film Actor 1920 ‘Dr. Jeckyll Mr. Hyde’

Rudolph Valentino – Silent Film Actor 1921 ‘The Shiek’

Douglas Fairbanks – Silent Film Actor 1922 ‘Thief of Bagdad’, ‘Robinn Hood’

Tom Mix – 1940 Cowboy Matinee Film Star

Melodrama – The cigar box label pays homage to the theatre

Motion Pictures are still using allusions from the past that could also be found on the Cigar Box label. In fact, it would be behoove motion picture studios to study vintage cigar box labels. There is endless symbolism, history, and famous people that might make for a good script.

Today, despite the negative connotation of smoking, many actors/directors  grace the covers of cigar related advertisement. Could this be due to the tradition of actors associating themselves with cigars or the status it portrays to the sophisticated upper class?