Monday, October 12, 2009

Cigars Under Glass

Perhaps it is the mystique of the cigar that renders its merchandising so colorful and flamboyant. For years cigar labels and cigar bands have featured elaborate images often splashed with gold. Glass paperweights advertising cigars are somewhat more restrained, but still worth noting.

One of the most colorful cigar paperweights celebrates the Italian author, Dante
Alighieri and depicts scenes from his greatest work, “The Divine Comedy, a spiritual trip through Hell, Purgatory and finally to Heaven. The original label is said to have been lithographed with 22 separate colors and cost $6,000 in 1900 dollars to create.

Dante Cigars are also credited being the first to market their product with pictorial labels. Shown here is what many believe to be the forerunner of all such labels. Produced in 1857, one of the few extant examples is in the collection of the Library of Congress.

Another cigar paperweight with a back story is J. P. Alley’s “Hambone” Cigar. Hambone was the nickname of Tom Hunley, a streetwise ex-slave. Interviewed late in life by cartoonist James (“J.P”) Alley, Hunley became the model for Alley’s widely syndicated illustrated column called “Hambone’s Meditations,” Begun in 1916, it was followed by two books. In the late 1920s a company was licensed to market cheap cigars under the character’s name and Alley’s illustration. The image on the paper weight is said to be a satire on Lindberg’s 1917 flight across the Atlantic.

A particular favorite of mine is the F. M. Kendrick & Co. “Crow Cigar” weight. Although it is only rendered in black and white, the clever use of a variety of type faces, sometimes called “carnival,” sets it apart. The weight was the product of the H.B. Hardenburg Co., a novelty producer in Utica, New York. Kendrick could also be colorful. Another brand from this company was Steuben Cigars, named for Baron Von Steuben, the German hero of the U.S. revolutionary war, and shown here on a 1909 box with its multi-hued label.

The kneeling Indian, designated “Chief of Them All” was the symbol of the Sheboygan Cigar Company from the town of the same name in Wisconsin. Incorporated about 1898, the firm not only made cigars but also cigar molds and cigar box lumber.

The final two examples eluded my research but are attractive enough to warrant attention. They are J.A. Champagne Cigar, showing a ship under furled sail, and La Verdo Cigars, depicting two lovers.

In short, cigar paperweights can rival cigar labels and bands for their visual appeal and deserve attention from cigar aficionados.

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