When big, bold and colorful posters burst on the nineteenth century advertising scene thanks to advances in lithography, the cigar industry joined the charge. Cigarmakers hawked their wares with images of moneyed swells, pretty girls, ancient soldiers and even more fanciful concepts. Today, the posters are an affordable collectible—starting in the hundreds of dollars—that will add class to your man cave and proclaim your smoker status at the same time.
For collectors, good examples are to be had, but expect the supply to be limited compared with posters touting such items as liquor or Champagne. Cigar posters were rarer to begin with—far more posters were created for cigarettes than for cigars—and most were snapped up by collectors during the cigar boom. However, the market has opened of late.
Poster dealer Gail Chisholm says of the early 1990s that she “couldn’t find cigar posters.” Today, Manhattan’s Chisholm Gallery, which she’s owned for more than 25 years, has a handful to choose from (see slideshow). Chisholm sees a double dynamic at work. The campaign against tobacco has dampened the market, yet for certain buyers the anti-tobacco crusade actually adds to these posters’ charms. Says Chisholm, “I think there’s going to be a great interest in collecting taboo subjects.”
For collectible posters in general, two main factors determine value: the name of the artist who created it, and the design and execution of the image itself. Examples by such superstars of the medium as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec or A.M. Cassandre can trade in the tens of thousands. The work of lesser-known or anonymous artists is also sought-after when the image itself is excellent. Condition is similarly important, but one shouldn’t be put off by minor imperfections. Intended as ephemera, these posters were printed on low-quality paper and weren’t handled with particular care.
Supply and demand also play a role in poster valuation. Some command more simply because very few examples of their particular design survived to the present. Demand also varies by subject—posters with upbeat subject matter, such as travel and lifestyle topics, command higher prices than those advertising more mundane products.
Chisholm’s tips for fledgling collectors: buy from a reputable source. Established brick-and-mortar galleries are a safe bet and can mentor a beginner on the basics of collecting. If you’re buying online, try to get a return clause as part of the purchase agreement. Poster values are susceptible to fads and fashions, so buy a poster because you love it, not as a potential investment. And finally, “relax and enjoy the process.”