Collecting Cigar Boxes and Cigar Label Art : eBay Guides

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Cigar box and cigar label collection hit a frenzied peak in the mid to late 1990s with the cigar smoking craze.  Even common labels (those where a few thousand were found) were fetching very high prices.  When the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants came into effect, some of the frenzy subsided, but during this time, many die hard collectors were born.  Like any collectible, there is fierce competition to get the biggest collection or collect all of one subject matter.  Some of the most popular images are of Cowboys and Indians, Nudes, Animals and Sports. 

The value of the label depends on several factors including the rarity of the image, the condition or the image,  the age of the image, and the country of origin.  Another value is that each label stands on its own as a great piece of Americana Art, even those people who are not interested in the history of tobacciana can appreciate the intricate details involved in making these exceptional advertising pieces

Interestingly, the collecting of cigar boxes and cigar box labels dates back to when the boxes and labels were first manufactured. We have all seen cigar boxes in basements, attics, antique shops, flea markets, and yard sales.  Filled with letters, buttons, crayons and countless other items.  Cigar boxes, when the cigars were all gone, became the place for storing and filing personal remembrances and keepsakes.  Cigar box labels were often kept in Victorian scrapbooks due to their beauty and variety in subject matter which interested adults and children alike.  Additionally, many of the old sample books, containing different examples of available artwork by a specific manufacturer, were kept long after the labels were out of productions, either by the factory in archives or by family members of the salesperson or the artist himself.

In the early days of box and label collecting, many caches were uncovered.  Cigar boxes were generally found as singles, occasionally larger groups were uncovered.  Many were found in individual homes, basements, attics and bards of an avid cigar smoker.  In this instance the boxes found will only reflect the tastes of the owner.  General stores, long gone out of business were another gold mine for the box scavenger.  One collector, while in upstate New York, discovered a store which opened in the early 1920's and operated until the early 199's. Upon the owners death the building and barns were sealed and only opened several years later for the auction.  It was  a classic, a typical old Yankee who followed the axiom "waste not, want no". He saved everything and the store was filled with old advertising signs, cards and store fixtures.  The basement was loaded with products that we mad e50 year previously, but were too good to be thrown away and along with this was a large cache of cigar boxes. These were cigars that were bought by him, opened and the product sold in singles. If no one was there to snatch the box as it was emptied, the box went into the basement. Yes, the variety was limited, but the boxes were ming, with only the sealing label and the tax stamps broken.

Some of the biggest collections of both cigar boxes and cigar box labels were obtained when a closed down factory is uncovered and the label hunter finds all of the unused boxes and labels they had on hand. This is where you would find mint boxes without the appropriate tax stamps, as well as many of the sample books and bundles of cigar labels, still factory sealed.

Prior to the Civil War, cigars were commonly shipped in large boxes or barrels.  These loose cigars were sold in groups of 50 cigars calle dwells or bundles. Tied with silk ribbons, these bundles would become the basis for the 50 count cigar box, initially referred to in the trade as a "Bundle Box".  These round bundles were dropped into a 5x5x5 square box with a hinged lid, nailed shut.  The 100 count or two bundle box was similar, measuring 5x5x10 to accomodate the second bundle.

In the book "Invisible Siege" the Journal of L. E. Christenden, the first signer of the United States Currency, Chittenden wrote that the Federal government was embarking on a war to foce the southern secessionists back into the Union and the government was broke.  Looking for a way to raise revenue, among other things, was a tax on cigars.  But how to put a tax on an item that could be sold loose or restocked.  The answer was to bundle the cigars into a box which was nailed shut and a tax stamp was glued over the lid that was broken.  The government then imposed fines for violations such as restocking the boxes with untagged cigars.  A new label called the "caution notice" was attached to the bottom of the box warning against the reuse of the box.

The finished boxes depended on the cigar maker, label maker and cigar box maker.  Most cigars were individualized to the local market.  Hundreds of lengths, widths and shapes became available. Because of this, cigar box makers and label makers had to manufacture product to fit the size and shape of the cigars offered. Most early boxes were made with wood and covered with vibrantly colored and embossed labels.  The labels were produced using a stone lithography technique, which by today's standard, would be too time consuming and expensive to recreate on such a thing as an advertisment label.   It is thought that up to 24 different stones were used to create some of these miniature masterpieces.

There was fierce competition between the cigar manufacturers to make the most eye catching designs possible in order to push more of their product.  Later, due to rising costs, boxes were produced in cardboard and the labels became less intricate and a traditional offset lithography method was used to produce the labels.

The following information may aid in establishing the age of the cigar box or labels.  Many labels will carry the printers name in small letters below the image, this is especially true with stock labels.

1849-1873  F. Heppenheimer
1873-1885 Heppenheimer & Mauer
1885-1892 F. Heppenheimer & Sons

1847-1872 George S. Harris
1873-1880 George S. Harris & Son
1881 George S. Harris & Sons Vine Street
1882-1892 George S. Harris & Sons Arch Street

1892 American Lithographic Co (a merger of Schumacher & Ettlinger, Witsch & Schmidt, Geo. S. Harris & Sons an F. Heppenheimer's Sons)
1930 Consolidated Graphics (bought American Lithographic)

In 1892 O. L. Schwencke wrote his concern in the formation of American Lithographic Co.  He would have nothing to do with the new "label trust" and jumped his lot numbers from the 2600's to the 5000. 

1900 Schwencke sold to Oscar Moehle who kept the Schwencke name but started the numbering system with 001.  Withing 10 years Moehle dropped the Schwencke name.

1911-1914 Kaufman, Pasbach, Voice
1914-1926 Pasbach-Voice
1918 Pabash-Voice bought out the label division of National Lithographic Code and Geo. Schmitt Label Division
1926 Voice merged with William  Steiner & Sons to form Consolidated Lithographic

1828 Calvert Lithographic was formed in 1970 is was absorbed into the Canadian printing firm of Lawson & Jones LTD

1883 FM Howell Company

1885 Cornell & Carey changed to Cornell Printing Co in 1886
1887 Howell & Aldrich Purchased Cornell Printing Co but the name remained the same

1874 Schmitt & Co
1916 George Schmidt & Co

1841-1851 George Schlegel 75 John Street
1851-1870 George Schlegel 75-77 Duane St
1870-1879 George Schlegel 67 Williams St
1879 George Schlegel & Son 64 Williams St
1880-1883 George Schlegel Art Lithographers 67 Williams St
1883-191 George Schlegel Art Lithographers 138-140 Center St
1921-1934 George Schlegel, Inc. 138-140 Center St
1934 Schlegel Lithographic Corp

I hope you have enjoyed this small slice of history.  We also offer a free online price guide to label values at


Guide ID: 10000000000775008Guide created: 01/03/06 (updated 15/04/14)

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