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 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”).

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).

How to Determine the Age of a Cigar Box Label

In my dealings with people that are new to cigar box labels, someone always asks the question “How can I determine the age of a cigar box label? ” Many people assume cigar box labels are newer than they really are. Most of the surviving cigar box labels are older then 100 years, and they still look in great shape. For this reason alone many would be buyers may pass up a good deal.  However, if you know what to look for it’s not all that hard to determine age. Here are four ways to help determine a cigar box labels age:

1. Is the Cigar Box Label a stone lithograph?

The majority of Stone Lithographs were created between 1864 and 1910. All Cigar Box Labels created from a stone have a distinctive look. The colors are bright and crisp and when viewed under a magnifying glass they have a distinctive stipple pattern.

2. Is the label embossed?

Embossing are raised areas on the cigar label, caused by presses. Embossing was used after 1884 to high-lite gold coins, clothes, and structural features. If the cigar box label is embossed it was created after 1884.

3. Is there a copyright date below the image?

The copyright date is the year the cigar box label was copyrighted with the government. This is the best indication of how old it is.

4.  Is there a lithographers name underneath the image?

Most cigar labels carry the lithographers name in small letters below the image. Below are some better known lithographers and the dates they were in business.

1849 – 1873 F. Heppenheimer
1873-1885 Heppenheimer & mauer
1885-1892 F. Heppenheimer & sons
1847-1872 George Harris
1873-1880 George Harris & sons
1861-1970 Calvert Lithographic Co.
1892- 1930 American Lithographic
1892-1900 O. L. Schwencke
1874-1915 Schmitt & Co.
1916-1926 George Schmidt & Co.
1841-1851 George Schlegel 75 John Street
1851-1870 George Schlegel 75-77 Duane St
1870-1879 George Schlegel 676 Williams St
1880-1919 George Schlegel Art Lithographers
1897-1970 F.M. Howell & Co.

The Politics of Cigar Box Labels

Political campaigns of the late 1800’s were exciting times for the public, politicians and cigar makers; very different then today’s planned TV ad’s and debates. At no other time was the citizen’s interest in elections and politics more passionate; with more then eighty percent of all eligible voters actually voting for local and national candidates. The basic campaign strategy was the maximum mobilization of potential votes. The candidates kicked off their campaigns by first notifying the public through the use of printed paper including: newspapers, posters, handbills, and cigar labels

The Politician’s image on cigar labels made money for the cigar makers. Most politicians smoked cigars and most debated in public forums. The candidates association with the cigar makers suggested that they intended to support and endorse pro tobacco legislation.

Usually, portraits of political party candidate’s  and their  names were prominently displayed . Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, and Harrison perfectly fit the image of the cigar smoker.

This is considered one of the first Lincoln political labels. Lincoln frequently appeared on cigar labels during the 19th century.

Grover Cleveland, elected in 1884, was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win office since James Buchanan in 1856.

The election of 1888 is a famous one in cigar circles as no other election in history generated more cigar brands and a greater variety of cigar box labels.

McKinley, though popular in his day, is probably best remembered now as the president whose assassination elevated Theodore Roosevelt, his vice president, to the White House.