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

Early Aviation – A Lofty Subject For Cigar Box Labels

Before the first airplane was invented by the Wright Brothers, inventors in France were making numerous attempts to fly like the birds. Their early inventions included kites, gliders, hot air balloons, and airships.

It just so happened that these early aviation experiments were being developed during the same time as the ‘Golden Age of Cigar Box Labels’ (between 1890 and 1910). Aviation images such as “Aero” were a perfect fit for Cigar Box lids because they fueled the public imagination and stirred up the excitement needed to attract cigar buyers.

The cigar box label “Dayton Flyer” – On December 17, 1903, the Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful manned flight in which a machine carrying a man rose by its own power flew naturally and at even speed, and descended without damage.

The next major advancements in human flight came in response to a contest sponsored by The Daily Mail of London, which offered a prize to the first aviator to fly across the English Channel. Louis Bleroit (1872–1936) won the contest, flying from Calais, France, to Dover, England, on July 25, 1909, in a monoplane of his own design with a 25-horsepower engine. His flight inspired the Cigar Box Label “Cloud Scout”

The American public may have known airplanes best for their acrobatic flying, or aerobatics, in the years immediately following the Wright brothers’ flights because of large cash prizes offered by newspapers. Dubbed the “glorious year of flying,” 1913 was marked by races, competitions, and demonstrations.

Famous pilots such as Charles Lindbergh (1902–1974) spawned two famous Cigar Labels: “World’s greatest Flyer” and “Spirit of St. Louis” Worand Antoine de Saint Exupery (1900–1944) were among the early airmail fliers.

Eventually, the first commercial airlines were developed to carry the public quicker, farther, and cheaper to far off destinations.

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).

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.