Indians Sell Cigars

Native Americans on cigar boxes

Text & images © by Tony Hyman, all rights reserved.

Format revision: July 23, 2012




    It’s only fitting that Native Americans should be a major theme in the marketing of cigars and other tobacco products. After all, they gave it to Columbus’s translator and crewman as a gift. Within a few decades, tobacco became a commercial product in Cuba, eventually one of two exports (sugar the other) that made that small island the richest colony in the world, metaphorically pouring money by

shipload into Spain.

    Thanks to English, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish traders, tobacco was being used by indigenous peoples around the globe. Since few men (or women) could read and write, it became a common practice to use paintings or carved statues  to announce the presence of tobacco for sale. At first, the figures that silently proclaimed availability of the weed were

predominately carved as Indians and blackamoors, the giver

of tobacco and the ultimate cultivator of same. Gradually, over

three centuries, Scotsmen, Arabs, female Indians, ball players,

race course touts, policemen, Turks and others were also seen

outside stores, but all that is subject for another exhibit.

ABOVE: Zinc cigar store figure created by William Demuth, NYC. Thanks to war-time scrap drives, this 1870 zinc masterpiece is one of less than a doxen known examples of this “Captain Jack” figure.

      Those same Indians and Negroes were often found stamped in ink upon the paper used to wrap pipe tobacco or snuff in the 1700s. Given the above, it should be no surprise that depictions of Native Americans are among the more common themes seen on cigar boxes, signs, and stationery.

It is important to note that this artwork was created almost exclusively by city-dwelling Caucasians, frequently European immigrants, who never saw an Indian. Their depictions of native Americans run the gamut from realistic to entirely imaginary, with the latter the more common. Note that whereas depictions of Blacks were most often derogatory, the majority of Indian boxes in this grouping display positive, even stately, images.

        The focus of this National Cigar History Museum Exhibit is on depictions of “Indians on Cigar Boxes.” Two companion Exhibits, “Cigar Store Indians” and “Indians on Paper” are in the works. The latter will focus on signs, paper bags, and letter head, but will include a few postcards, trade cards, and other pieces of ephemera from 1760 to 1960.

        This Exhibit contains more than 100 images, but begins with the five most often seen cigar brands depicting Native Americans: Rocky Ford, Pappoose, Brown Beauties, Blackhawk and Totem. They are available because they were made by medium-to-large size companies for many decades and widely distributed. As a result, each brand exists in many variations, not all of which are owned by me or included in this exhibit. Being the most common does not mean they have no value, but should trigger hesitancy about buying one in less than very fine condition.  Rocky Ford was made by P. Lorillard, the largest of the five cigar manufacturers. Brown Beauties and Pappoose [sic] had the longest life. The misspelled Pappoose was started in 1854, had muyltiple owners, and may hold the title for most label variations of any U.S. cigar brand in history. Although they kept the central square motif typical of brands of the Civil War era, the flanking text was easily modified, the key to their variety. As the oldest of the Indian brand names in the U.S., complete with a depiction of an infant, what more appropriate way to start this exhibit?  I’d like to obtain other variations you don’t see here, as some of the most common are missing. Donations or reasonably priced variants of Pappoose are appreciated.

   That’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed this brief glimpse of native Americans  (“Indians”) on cigar packaging. It is representative, not exhaustive. There are many more from both the U.S. and other countries. Indians appeared on advertising, packaging, letterheads, signs and flyers for a wide variety of other products and a great many more cigar labels not seen here.

   If you have ANY cigar box or can depicting an Indian, the Museum would like to see what you have. I am especially interested in variations of the five most common brands, especially PAPPOOSE and other brand names used with the image of F.M. Howell CHIEF’S DAUGHTER.

   Watch for a future exhibit of native American images in signs, letterheads, trade cards and labels. Watch too for “How cigar labels were chosen and made,” scheduled  for sometime in the future.

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