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


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.

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”).

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).

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

Is a Vintage Cigar Box Label Considered a True Work of Art?

Art is defined as the creation of something beautiful that affects the senses, mind, intellect and even the soul. Cigar Box Labels posses all four of these qualities so why shouldn’t we consider them true works of art? There seems to be something missing like; like who is the artist? or like is it a single piece of creation or reproduction? This is where things get a little fuzzy.

When you admire a beautiful piece of cigar label art, the knowledge of the original artist has long since disappeared. The best you can do is know the lithography company that reproduced the artwork. The artists that worked for the lithography companies created the art but the lithography company mass produced their work and took all the credit.  In a way, this is no different then today – when viewing art produced for mass advertising. In addition, many artists today reproduce their works through prints or other mass production methods but they keep them in limited quantities.  This is especially important if you’re considering parting with a hefty sum of money for a piece of ‘art’.

What makes vintage cigar label art different is the method in which they reproduced the original art. The use of chromolithography, strictly speaking,  is a colored image printed by many applications of ink on multiple lithographic stones, each stone using a different color ink. Chromolithographs were elaborately made, using upwards of 13 or more stones to create a rich and sophisticated image. It took many skilled craftsmen to produce a cigar box label from stone – from the original artist that created the conceptual drawing, to the craftsmen who drew the images onto the stone, to the skilled printers who aligned the stones and laid the ink.    Many chromolithographs were intended to duplicate watercolors and paintings, allowing the middle class to hang “art” in their home at an affordable price.

If you are thinking of purchasing a vintage cigar box label, the more you know about the subject, the better off you are. All vintage cigar label art is rare but it is not the original work. However, because vintage cigar box labels are both rare and antique (over 100 years old) they have a predetermined value determined by the collectors that buy them.  You don’t need to be professionally trained to make a smart decision.  Anyone can become a wise collector with patience, discipline and the right tools.

Prudent collectors know the marketplace, and the prices. Be informed, watch for auctions, monitor the buying and selling, and understand the grading system. Cultivate a good standing with cigar art retailers and community. Buy not for just an investment but for the love of the art and historical value it may bring. Who knows, another hundred years from now vintage cigar label art may become priceless.

The Enigmatic Symbols in Cigar Box Labels

In no other art form – that I am aware of – did artists use more symbolism then in cigar box label art. There is one overriding reason for this: the cigar box label had to evoke an emotional reaction. To better understand why so much symbolism was used one must understand the times.  The cigar box label originated during the Victorian era 1843 -1901 when symbols were being used to express everything from sentimentality to repressed sexual desires.  The tendency towards Victorian sentimentality manifested itself in a number of complicated ways, symbolism was used in writing, pictures, flowers and jewelry to express or convey hidden messages. Graphically, these emotions were first epitomized with ancient mythological goddesses, flowers, cherubs and cupids . As the 19th century ended additional symbols were used such as the cornucopia, anchors, anvils, flags, ships all symbols to represent commerce and progress.

Cherubs are angelic and signify innocence.

Visions of girls as flowers to be plucked was commonly used in cigar label art to attract the gentleman’s desire.

Symbolic associations with the rose have existed since the days of the ancient Romans and Greeks. Roses have been identified with love and passion since those times, beginning with their association with the goddesses Aphrodite, Isis and Venus. Cleopatra is said to have received Marc Anthony in a room literally knee-deep in roses.

The staff of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, has a SINGLE snake wrapped around it. His staff was also called a Caduceus and was adopted as a symbol by the medical profession (although the modern medical symbols I have seen use the double snake).

Hephaestus; was a Greek God who Roman equivalent was Vulcan.  He is the son of Zeus and Heronia the King and Queen of the Gods or else (according to some accounts) of Hera alone.

Caduceus:. The Caduceus is  a winged staff  with two serpents intertwined about it.

In Greek mythology this symbol is associated with the god Hermes who’s Roman equivalent was mercury.
Hermes was the messenger of the gods and conductor of souls to Hades. Though he was the god of many things, for our purposes, he was the god of Travelers, Luck and Commerce. Hermes is portrayed with winged hat and sandals, carrying the Caduceus.

A symbol of plentitude, strong harvests and abundance: The Cornucopia usually had cigars or gold coins overflowing with fruits, and abundant harvest.