Cigar Aficionado

Labeling America: Popular Culture on Cigar Box Labels

It might be hard to believe, given today's strict smoking regulations, that cigar advertising was once everywhere. But for those of us who appreciate the artwork as part of the cigar experience, box art from the golden age has been collected in Labeling America: Popular Culture on Cigar Box Labels by John Grossman (Fox Chapel Publishing, 320pp.)

Labeling America is a visual history of label art printed from 1849-1971 by three generations of the Schlegel family. George Schlegel Lithographers was one of the premiere American companies producing artwork for cigar boxes of the time, and this volume collects a wide and vivid sample of the artwork they produced.

Grossman applies his expert knowledge in an approachable but informative history of the rise and fall of lithography and how the cigars of yesteryear connected with the artwork.

The book traces the evolution of cigar advertising through trial and error, offering forgiving evaluations of a pioneering industry: “Some of the imagery now seems quaint, naïve, even odd. Yet the beginning of familiar advertising themes can be seen, such as the portrayal of famous men and women on the labels, with or without their permission, suggesting product endorsement and use.”

The reprints in this book (which retails for $39.95) are actually from the John and Carolyn Grossman collection, which is on display at the du Pont estate Winterthur in Brandywine Valley, Delaware.

John Grossman’s painstaking work in authoring this volume makes for a pleasant read whether you’re flipping through the decades of artwork, or reading it cover to cover, absorbing the history of a printing dynasty and a bygone era’s elegant tobaccania.