Although cigars had been smoked in Europe and the U.S. since the 1760’s, there didn’t seem to be strong brand competition prior to the 1840’s. A cigar was a cigar and you took whatever you could get.  Cigars were advertised as Spanish, half-Spanish, Havannah, Manila, Hamburgh, Yara or common, all descriptions of how, where, or what they were made of. You might find mention of Regalias or Londres, the two most popular shapes, both about four inches long, the former straight, the later bulbous.  Cigars were rarely mentioned by brand name. In newspaper ads and government documents before 1840, I’ve seen only RIFLE and DOS AMIGOS in 1838 and LA CARONA [sic] in 1839.  By 1840, things were changing.

    Worldwide demand for Cuban cigars was huge, absorbing every cigar no matter the brand or quality. To fill that demand small cigar companies, factories and brokers, sprang up like daisies in spring, more than 1,000 of them by 1860. Every small town, and there were a lot of them, had a local roller. Larger factories called them chinchales (bedbugs), and their mortality was high, lasting about three years. Many cigar-making partnerships were limited to a few transactions, lasting only a year or two. Everyone had hopes their brand would catch on in international trade so they could either start a family legacy-business or sell out for piles of money to some bigger company. Sound familiar?  A few succeeded, and are (or will be) the subject of other NCM exhibits.

      The cigar makers of that day were truly advertising pioneers. Prior to the 1860’s there was little marketplace confrontation between products with similar or competing brand-names.  Crudely printed paper sheets were wrapped around smoking tobacco in the 1700’s, but those labels were to help retailers, not display advertising. Cigars were the first product packed in containers intended to serve as marketing displays to induce customers to buy the contents. Every advertising and packaging decision cigarmakers and brokers did was ground breaking. The newly introduced combination of colored paper and German printing technology gave them the opportunity to create mass produced labels for the first time. 

        As pioneers the men and women who made and-or marketed cigars were forced to answer many basic questions, the answers to which would be taken for granted a quarter century later. [1] Where did the label go on the box?

[2] What shape should the label be?  [3] What color should it be?  [4] What image should be on the label? [5] What text should it have? [6] Where on the label should the text be placed?

        The earliest Cuban makers frequently believed a label needed nothing more than the maker’s name; others were more adventurous, and in so being, founded modern package advertising.  This exhibit is a peek at a few of the answers they came up with. EARLY CUBAN LABELS II goes into further detail about early label design development. Labels in this exhibit date 1835-1868.

Early Cuban Labels:

Modern advertising is born

A National Cigar History Museum Exclusive

© Tony Hyman

Modified February 28, 2013