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Selling the Smokes: Vintage Cigar Ads

For More Than a Century, Cigar Ads Were Among the Best in the Business
Ken Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97

(continued from page 2)

Grossman's most prized possession is a 1901 box of 50 cigars with presidents on the cigar bands. "There were 25 presidents up to that point," Grossman says, "and the box contains two of each." The box has four layers of cigars, a sheet of wax paper between each layer. "I bought it at an auction," he notes. He won't say what he paid or how much it is worth.

Brought up in Atlanta, Elliot Singer, 56, is another collector of cigar ads. Singer was an account executive from 1964 to 1969 with J. Walter Thompson, then the world's largest advertising agency, so he knew a good ad when he saw it. "I thought that the graphics and design of cigar ads were masterful," he said. "I was at a country auction [in 1970] and I saw a cigar sign and thought it was colorful and paid about $300 for it."

For Singer, that began a prolonged search for box labels, posters and other exquisitely wrought cigar items. "I started seeing a lot of cigar box labels at country auctions and advertising shows. And I thought, 'Well, those are pretty.' So I bought a big book with sleeves to slide the labels in. These were labels that went on the inside cover of cigar boxes. So I bought a couple of hundred of them over a period of time and I thought, 'Well, I don't know how many there are out in the world, but there can't be too many and maybe I'll get one of every one that has ever been printed.' I thought it would be fun to do that." Until he discovered that there were more than 200,000.

Before the turn of the century, manufacturers would do most anything to catch the consumer's eye. "They made door pushes, the push on a screen door of the cigar store," says Singer. "On a fan they had a pull string to turn on the fan, and the string had a sign hanging from it and it would swirl around. I thought that was pretty neat from an advertising standpoint."

Recounting his favorites, two ads leap to Singer's mind. "Some of the factories in the United States were very unsanitary; so one of the ads says, 'These cigars are only produced in the finest sanitary conditions.' " And then there's a Denby cigar ad depicting a merchant with a pencil behind his ear and a full white beard holds a cigar, tilts his head back in pleasure and proclaims, "Such Good-ness!" "The implication is that the cigar is so good that I know you're going to enjoy it," Singer says. "The best ads are whimsical."

Singer has some of the poster ads hanging in the recreation room in his Nashville home.

"My wife, Retta, has restricted them to a particular area," he says. "She thinks they are quite colorful and are just a little part of me, if you will." A little part of him and a little part of the history of cigar advertising.

Ken Shouler, a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado from White Plains, New York, is the author of The Experts Pick Basketball's Best 50 Players in the Last 50 Years (AllSports Books, 1997).

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