Hambone Fantasies & Fakes

A National Cigar Museum Expose´

© Tony Hyman




        For those who want the image, fortunately there is a widely available 7” round cardboard ceiling fan-light hanger designed by Alley and handed out by William C. Frutiger & Co., the Red Lion, PA, owner-maker of the cigar brand based on Alley’s character in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

        A large pile of these were found and hit the market a few decades ago. There are plenty to go around so one can still be yours for about $25.

     Also on the market are at least three “fantasy” items copying Alley’s design: a rectangular blue porcelainized metal sign, a round porcelainized metal sign, and a crudely drawn plate. All are “fantasies” not reproductions as no real signs or plates exist. None of these three items are old, cigar, or advertising. They are modern decorator items, correctly called “fantasies.”


      The amazingly ugly plate contains a decal of a crude drawing created by an Ohio opportunist in the 1980’s and slowly released through Southern auction houses in a deliberate attempt to defraud customers into believing it authentic. The plate, though marked, is not Buffalo Pottery. In a phone conversation regarding this plate, Buffalo Pottery representatives assured expert pottery dealer Violet Altman that “it’s a fake. We never made anything like it and never marked Buffalo Pottery in block letters.” Buffalo Pottery’s attorney pointed out that their mark was patented and they planned to bring suit against the faker, and offered a substantial reward for his identity. The number 1911 appears on the bottom of the plate, but obviously isn’t a date, as hopeful sellers claim, since the  Hambone character wasn’t created until 1916 and Lindbergh’s flight took place in 1927 and no time machines existed. Value? If you know where to look you can still buy all three of these items new for $24.95. But why would you want to?

In May of 2010 reports came in that the “plate” is now being offered without back-marks; perhaps Buffalo Pottery caught the perpetrator of this obscenity.

     Turning up twice on ebay is this paint-can lidded rust-bucket with what appears to be a rare square HAMBONE label. There is no ID, and no tax class notice as required by law, and the idea of packing cigars in a paint can is absurd, even for this inventive industry. This item has no characteristic of a cigar package. Experts advise “stay away” unless you know what you’re buying or don’t care if it’s a fraud. I’d stay away.


          TOP TO BOTTOM:

The original fan or light hanger. [1677]

Porcelainized modern rectangular sign.

Porcelainized modern circular sign.

Crude modern plate.

Fake Buffalo Pottery mark on the plate.

Strange paint can fake.


     More than one fantasy involves around HAMBONE cigars.  Hambone was the nickname of Tom Hunley, a folk-wisdom spouting ex-slave interviewed late in his life by a young Memphis editorial cartoonist James Pinckney “J.P.” Alley who was enthralled by Hunley’s humorously philosophical tone. Alley turned the old man’s pithy observations on life into a syndicated illustrated newspaper column called “Hambone’s Meditations” which debuted in 1916 and was soon followed by two books. When J.P. died in 1934, his son Calvin took over his work, and the Hambone character continued in papers until 1968.

      Starting in the late 1920’s, two different cigar companies (over time, not at once) were licensed to market cheap cigars under the character’s name and Alley’s illustration. The image on the cigar box label is a satire on Lindberg’s 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic ocean. Boxes are reasonably difficult to find (but not impossible) and sell in the $100± range.

Two styles of box used in the late 1920s and early 30s by William Frutiger & Co., Factory 417 in Red Lion, PA.