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Thursday, April 3, 2014


Louis E. Neuman & Co. cigar box label, ca. 1890? Tobacco Trade and Industry Series,
Warshaw Collection of Business American, Archives Center, National Museum of American History  

Among the many different types of pictorial paper items in the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana are cigar box labels.  The collection is rich in provocative imagery used to advertise many types of products.  Perhaps the most common form of advertisement in the collection is the "trade card," essentially an oversized business card with often lively and colorful illustrations.  Another familiar form is the cigar box label.  It might be argued that a label intended to be glued to a product or its container doesn't function exactly the way an advertisement--generally distinct and physically separate from the product--functions.  However, attractive labels can also induce the customer to make a purchase in order to possess both product and its beguiling advertisement.  Neophyte cigar smokers often selected their cigars on the basis of the personal appeal of the illustrations on the inside cover of the box.  Certainly one of the most "collectible" types of advertising ephemera is the cigar box label and its intriguing, distinctive, richly colored style.  Its heyday was the late 19th century to early 20th century, but 21st century cigar box labels often retain the old-fashioned style.  Since cigar consumers were almost exclusively men, the labels were designed to reinforce masculine stereotypes.  Attractive, exotic women often are the subjects of these colorful lithographs, as well as themes such as "cowboys and Indians."  Many of the latter portrayed Native Americans as "noble savages," while others emphasized their reputation as wild, fearsome warriors.  Consider the cultural implications of this particular design and the cigar brand, "Warpath."

David Haberstich
Curator of Photography
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

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