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.

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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.

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.

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).