Monday, July 22, 2013

Some Smoking Hot Label Design

The heyday of cigar production began in 1870 and continued to increase until about 1920 when there were over 350,000 registered brands. As cigar manufacturing increased in the later 19th century, so did the demand for increasingly sophisticated packaging. Cigar manufacturers were also discovering the necessity to improve their packaging designs in order to prevent counterfeit knockoffs of their brands. This demand led to some enterprising lithographers offering “sets” of labels for their cigar boxes. According to Maurice Rickards in the Encyclopedia of Ephemera, “They were available as related four- or five-piece ‘sets’, comprising ‘ins’ and ‘outs’, flaps, seals, edging, etc., as designed. Brand names featured on the labels were purely notional, Spanish phrases—‘Gran Fabrica de Tabacos’, Elaboracion Especial’, ‘Primera Calidad’; they conveyed nothing more special than atmosphere and their many gold medals and awards were fictitious.”

With the emergence of chromolithography, cigar manufacturers could rely exclusively on the visual appeal of the label to promote their product. The colorfully ornate labels appeared on the top, ends and sides of the cigar box, and served as a point of sale. The practice of displaying the cigar box with the lid open led to an additional branding label, which was often less colorful, but no less stunning (much like the many examples displayed here.) Looking at many of these simpler one and two color labels, one can more fully appreciate these artists' fine lettering and design skills. Each of these labels are part of some original sets printed in Germany in the late 19th century, and available from this eBay dealer     
     Decorative cigar box trim was used to wrap the edges of the entire box such as those below. The first group below is from my own collection, the source of the others are from Artfully Musing.

The larger printing companies sought out some of the finest artists of the day to illustrate the labels on the large litho stones. They soon began the practice of preparing sets of sample books containing the various labels, bands and trim designs for each cigar manufacturer. In the US, the leading printers were The American Lithographic Co., The Consolidated Litho Co., and the George Schlegel Lithographing Co. in New York which continued operation until 1960. In Europe, the trade was primarily in Germany, with major firms such as Gebruder Klingenberg, Gebruder Weigang and Hermann Schott who printed the majority of the labels featured here (with exception of the decorative trims and the cover of the Schlegel label set below.) 


  1. Have you sen Richard Diebenkorn's small studies painted on cigar boxes? Marvellous, beautiful, tiny works; see my post here...

    Thanks for posting these, Jennifer. Beauty can be found everywhere, yes?!

    1. Thanks Shelley, these are just lovely. It reminded me that I had seen some cigar box paintings elsewhere. Although a very different genre, Ed Musante's birds on boxes are beautiful.

  2. Love these, as well as all of your other posts! Thank you!
    On a diff note, while trying (in vain) to find any info abt some great books I collected as a kid- all published as "A Harlan Quist Book", I happened upon this one blog post (serendipity!) and thought you would enjoy it... I am busy filling my dream cart at AbeBooks :-)

    1. Thank you for the kind words Qweeka, AND the great link! A tremendous find, and one I intend to return to over and over. Made my day ; )


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