Thursday, February 13, 2014

19th Century Cigar Labels

As my regular readers know, I collect antique advertising, mostly in the form of lithographed trade cards, which you can read about in my sidebar, or here. I don't go out of my way to collect cigar labels because I don't want to stray too far from my field of collecting. But every so often I come across early cigar labels, those that were lithographed on plain rag paper like the rest of the collection. I'd like to share a few from my collection, and I estimate that these are all approximately 135 year old.
This label and the following one both emphasize the important commercial aspect of the cigar industry in the 19th century. Cigars were of course a major Cuban export, after sugar. In the United States, cigars held a special function for all the industrial shipping that moved south by river. When those vessels were emptied, they were often laden with cigars for the trip back north.

Mercury is the Roman god of commerce, so he is honored here with his own "El Comercio" brand. (I'll have to add that Greek key to my sidebar page on Greek keys!) This Mercury is a little portly, and his helmet appears to be a golden Homburg.

Lithography was a new color printing process in the 1800s, and the influx of rich colored images caused many people to save labels of all sorts, sometimes for scrapbooking and sometimes to adorn their walls. This colorful image was carefully cut out from a bigger label. (We should have known that the gods of tobacco rode in on a dragon.)

I've featured this American beauty before, but it's such a rich example of early lithography that I'll show it again. It's only about two inches high.

I've scanned this Cuban label which was actually lithographed in Germany. Unfortunately, scans absolutely deaden items that are gilded, so I also took a digital image of this spectacular piece of paper, below.

I'm adding the image below, which may or may not be a cigar label. Nonetheless, it's Victorian graphic design at its best, and a message good for today and tomorrow!

Have a Great Day!



  1. Hi Mark, These cigar labels are great. Embossing, gilding, lithography--nothing was spared to create an enticing package. My favorite is the brook trout one, not only because of its surreal quality, but also because I used to work in a trout hatchery in Cleveland.

    1. Hi, Jim,

      I used to travel out of state to attend ephemera conventions, which were exciting because the country's best dealers would bring incredible items — like lithographs in mint condition and still on barrel heads — that were museum pieces. I bought the trout cigar label and some of my other favorite lithographs at those conventions.

  2. These are beautiful, Mark; I can certainly see why you're attracted to them. Are these the labels that would go on the box or a label that would be wrapped around a cigar. It's hard to get a handle on the size.

    1. Hi, Steve,

      These labels probably went on boxes a little smaller than the cigar boxes we think of today, and with the exception of the ovals, they're approximately 3x4 inches.

  3. So beautiful with the vivid colors. I'm surprised that something as masculine as cigars would have labels with so much 'girly' pink on them!

    1. Hi, Stefan,

      I think that the early lithographers did their best to show off a wide range of colors. Having said that, it might surprise you to know that the gender distinction between pink and blue did not exist in the 1800s. That was a trend that develpoed between 1900 and 1940 and was pretty much solidified after 1940. Also, don't forget that in the 1800s and before, both boys and girls wore dresses until they were about 4-6.

  4. Hi Mark,
    beautiful labels, indeed. As I collect chromo-lithographed things myself (see I value your collection a lot.
    Is there a chance to ask you to have a look for labels printed by "F.Appel - Paris"?
    Feel free to contact me at moppimoopenheimer (at) gmail (dot) com

    1. Hi, Moppi,

      I will certainly keep my eyes open for "F. Appel - Paris," though most of my collecting was done in the 1970s and 1980s. But I will certainly look for you.

      I hope that as you looked through my site, you saw the collection on my side bar. I have used my trade card collection to show how corporate identity evolved:

      Best wishes,


  5. Mark, Thank you for your fast reply. A small typo: at scroll down to the cat chromo. It is Eclectic Oil, not Electric. I would like to chat a little aside of the blog. Maybe you are interested in exchanging ideas through mail. If so: moppimoopenheimer (at) gmail (dot) com and I could tell you all I know about chromolitho layer working, some additional ideas to your Pompeji house (amazing work, btw.) or we could chat about ephemera collections.

    Greetings from Berlin/Germany.

    1. And thank you, Moppi for your sharp eye — nobody else caught that typo, and it's been posted for a lonnnng time!

      I've made the correction.