Novelty Box Sampler

A National Cigar History Museum Exclusive 

© Tony Hyman

Latest addition: January 17, 2011

    When the tax law of 1878 first permitted boxes other than wooden rectangles, a wave of oddly shaped containers hit the market within days. Since then, thousands of cigar sellers have used cleverly designed boxes and uprights to lure smokers into buying the entire box. Book shaped boxes and log cabins were particularly popular and are expanded upon in other Exhibits. All cigar boxes, of course, can be used to hold things, but true “reusables” were specifically designed for some useful purpose once the cigars were gone. Game boxes and mugs are two popular “reusables” also subject of their own exhibits. The greatest variety of novelty boxes date from the 1870’s and early 1880’s so this Exhibit begins with a few of these amazing 130 year old creations.

    Novelty packaging underwent two “revivals,” the first around 1900 to 1910 when book boxes by the score hit the market, the second during the great depression. The 1930’s reusables are best known for cedar log cabins and hundreds of different “lady vanity” boxes in wood and metal designed to be re-used by the “her of the house,” not the him.

    I selected the items in this EXHIBIT to whet your appetite to visit other exhibits.  The Cuban cigar industry, for example, was famous for exotic packaging, so you are encouraged to visit the exhibit of Cuban chests as well. Since many novelties were designed as Christmas gifts, you’ll also want to visit the Christmas exhibit

    After 60 years collecting, I still turn up new novelties.  

    The box is an ordinary NWH (nailed wood with hardware). The novelty is the association with a

strength testing machine (with built-in cigar cutter) patented by G.B. Fowler in June of 1886.  Anything to sell a cigar.  There’s no indication that cigars were given as prizes. If they were, every strong guy would be getting free cigars and the word would spread quickly. The three items pictured were obtained over a span of 20+ years.  I’ve seen one other box, no other machines.  Cigars were made for The Farrington Cigar Company by Edward A. Lambert who employed 60 rollers in Fact. 99, 3rd NYC, located at 343 East 73rd Street in the late 1880’s.

[4385]   [4386]   [4388]

[UL]  STATE SEAL OF MONTANA by Ashland cigar Co. (Fact. 167, 2nd Wisconsin) 1902   [3404]

[UR]  HOLIDAY GREETINGS by A.E. John (Fact 155, 4th Iowa) Fort Madison, c1904.  Same wood with

            simulated weave but a different finish and different corner and top-center hardware. [4147]

[LL]  TIMM’S MONOGRAM  Christmas BN 25/8-9-8 (Fact. 931 Minnesota), c1904.   [4146]

[LR]  REMEMBER ME Christmas BN covered in brocade-like paper for cigarmaker Ralph H. Davis

            (Fact. 171, 4th Dist. Iowa)  Moulton, IA, c1904.   [4153]

At least a dozen different types of stamped simulated weaves and other patterns are found on turn-of-the-century boxes, usually with decorative hardware, which seems to be available in almost endless variety.  These fancy boxes were particularly common at Christmas after 1900.



    Unusual reusable complete with thermometer and 1887 calendar. Cigars were made by Frank Pchaski in 1886 in his two man factory located at 708 5th Avenue in NYC (Fact. 552, 3rd NY). Two others of these are known, with different year calendars but all marked “Fidelity Trust Safety” suggesting they were a give-away by a bank or insurance company for at least three years.


    Towne, Fuller & Co., (Factory 27, 10th Mass.), who used the lovely inlaid and laminated boxes seen above, also used this short-lived highly inventive box in 1883. Made in only three pieces, two end blocks and a laminated wrap around made of 1/32” veneer glued to muslin. Extremely light-weight and relatively sturdy, the box would have been perfect for mail-order, except the laminate had a tendency to peel off, as seen here.


    Novelty box and novelty cigar, tho why anyone would want one is beyond me.  Made by W.K. Gresh & Sons (Fact. 1839, 1st PA) Norristown in the mid 1880’s. Made for Rothenberg & Schloss, a Leaven-worth, Kansas, distributor who would eventually become one of the country’s largest. Few survived as the box wasn’t useful, didn’t stack well, and the bottom had a tendency to unattach itself.

[2553]   [2554]

    The brightly colored label would stand out in any cigar counter, but the odd shape with its brass corners and plate centered on the top lid suggests it was likely to have been a Christmas package intended to be sold by the box. The silver-grey liner supports that contention. OUR FOUR CORNERS is a NYC brand packed in an identically manufactured box with its overhanging bottom and lid. Compare the blue on the inside label, the top and the front. The outside paper is badly sun-faded a reminder to flea-market dealers that cigar box colors are fragile and that these should never be displayed in full sun.  Made in Fact. 1830, 1st tax district of Pennsylvania in the mid 1880’s.

[4351]   [4350] 


        Another Foster, Hilson & Co. novelty box, this one patented in Oct of 1877 and used in early 1879. The brand name was on an applied sticker so other brands could be packed in the same 100 box. The strap is leather. The tax stamp is applied on the ends and bottom so as not to interfere with the package design. Foster, Hilson was Factory 1, 3rd Dist. New York City located at 39th Street and 1st Avenue.  [3429]


    Christmas special made by Straiton & Storm in giant (1,000 rollers) Factory 11,

3rd Dist. NYC located at 204-208 E. 27th.

Cut-out fretwork like this is rare.

Straiton & Storm was one of the nation’s largest cigar companies, operating four NYC factories. Best known for creating Robt. Burns and Owl brand cigars, S&S ultimately became General Cigar. An exhibit of S&S brands is planned.     [4327]


These lovely laminates and inlays were all used between 1878 and 1884 by Towne, Fuller & Co., (Factory 27, 10th Mass.) who employed 150 rollers in Springfield.  Other varieties of these have been found as well, but nothing after 1885, making me curious as to why. No box maker identification on any of them.

[2508] [2514]




    A brand of cigars made for the man whose friends bum too many smokes. The inset mirror makes the mooch the 3rd Jackass.

    Box patented in 1878. Cigars made in 1883 in Factory 303, 3rd District of New York City, a factory that had shut down by 1886 so no info is available.  A curator’s favorite.



        A strange double sided novelty box of 100 which opens as if it were two boxes of 50. Perhaps the goal was to keep the cigars visible as quantities got low. Cigars were made by Hall Blair, a 25 man factory located at 187 Fulton St. in Brooklyn and packed in 1880 for Twitchell, Champlin & Co., a large New England wholesaler. This was the era of Barnum’s Jumbo when elephants were on everyone’s mind.  Two patents are listed on the box, one in April, 1877, the other in January 1879.



      Foster, Hilson & Co. packed this novel 100/13 in 1881. This huge company employed 700 rollers in their factory at 39th St. and 1st Ave. in New York City.  Retailers must have hated how difficult it was to stack with its curved cardboard top.


       No brand name is on this 1881 trunk made by Steinberg & Brother, whose factory at 330 W. Main in Louisville, KY, had 30 rollers. The chromo card and rick-rack are pasted in place.   [3439]   [3446]
    The round cheese box shape hides a 100/13 box of CHEESE IT cigars. These 5¢ smokes were made in Massachusetts in 1880. The label depicts a famous race-walk held in Central Park in 1878 for the Astley Belt. The names of the country’s top race walkers (Howell, Hart, Merritt, Ennis & Weston) are on the building to the left. The rear walker has broken step because he is being bombarded by wheels of cheese, the significance of which is a clue to the brand name, but lost in history. The ship is labeled Pinafore, probably after the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta which opened in London in 1878. The

box is damaged, missing the panel which originally covered the two spaces in front. I learned of this brand in 1960 and looked for one for 46 years before finding this, so was willing to buy a broken one. 

[9874]   [9876]

    PIPER HEIDSIECK cigars packed in a bottle, what else? Patented in November of 1877, these 25 cigar bottles are hand-turned on a lathe and parts are not interchangeable. Used in 1879 by NYC’s

J. Holzman, who used other oddly shaped boxes as well.  The top of the bottle was originally foiled and wired like a champagne bottle. The collar is turned, an integral part of the bottle, not inserted.

[2885]   [2886]


      Patented in June of 1878, this box shaped like a rueda media (half wheel) of 50 cigars was used in 1879 by Sutro & Newmark, one of New York City’s largest factories with more than 1,000 rollers at 73rd St. and 2nd Ave. This rare box was a special order item packed for retailer Thomas L. Benham, located at 723 3rd Ave.  The small die-cut on the front is original. Brand name? THE LATEST.

        Boxes in which cigars stand on end are called uprights, many of which are novelties, and subject of their own exhibit. Click at the top of the page to visit.




held 100 small cigars

Sandy’s card not in the NCM collection

in four quarter-wheel bundles of 25. A wheel (rueda) consists of 100 cigars. Patented December, 1878, this two-foot long rarity was filled in 1879 by Louis “Big Sandy” Simons, owner of a four man New York City factory located at 438 E. 18th Street.”


    Patented in October of 1878, Helibroner & Joseph at 358 Bowery St. in NYC used this clever package the following year. Each of the drawers is a legal box of 25 cigars, complete with its own ID, Caution Notice and tax stamp.  I have a similarly shaped giant box with four drawers of 250 cigars each, plus additional compartments, making a full size traveler’s desk. Same patent, same maker. Both desks came with lock and key.  [3442]  [3441]


“It is a well known fact that a cigar box after use has no value, still it costs money, which is added to the expense of producing the goods and is paid for by the consumer.

The Letter-File Cigar Box was designed especially to prevent this loss, as after the cigars are used, the file is useful for Letters, Bills, Receipts, etc.”

       Created around the turn of the century, the Columbus File Cigar’s box is the ultimate in reusability.  Cigars were made in Columbus, OH, Factory 105, 11th Dist. Ohio by the Wing Cigar Co. and sold, like most cigars packed in boxes of 250, for 3 for 5¢.  In addition to the sales brochure the NCM collection includes a box-salesman’s blank unlabeled example of this rare box.

[3300]   [3398]



NOTICE TO THE CONSUMER! This Beautiful Tin Box when empty will be given to the Purchaser of the last package of CIGARS.  It makes a very desirable Box to use as a CASH BOX, LUNCH BOX, CAKE BOX or for FISHING TACKLE, VALUABLE PAPERS, Etc. Watch the Box and buy the last Package.

Another classic example of a reusable, though this 13” long box is flimsy and of relatively limited use despite the seller’s hype.  Title and package owned by Tinkham Bros, Cigar makers and distributors in Jamestown, NY, but the cigars were made in Factory 2353 in the 9th Dist. PA around 1905.  Novelty boxes of 250 are rare. Many other variations of smaller, more practical, reusable tin boxes can be seen in the NCM exhibit of Tin Boxes after 1900. Click here.

    Trunks and suitcases are a popular theme for novelty packaging. This 1904 version is basically two 50/13’s joined, but with an unusual internal lid. The box has leather handles that fold flat compared to the earlier version. Cigars made in Fact. 2263, 5th New Jersey about 1904.


    Log cabins were a popular novelty, but most were more realistic than this printed box with logs extended past the corners. B.R. Hahn of Bay City, Michigan, a member of the Izaac Walton League, intended this patented box to be reused as a bird house when emptied by cutting an opening in one end. Cigars made in the late 1920’s in Fact. 693, 1st tax district of Michigan.  To see more typical cabin boxes, click here


    During the first half of the 20th century, using a soldering-gun-like tool to burn patterns into wooden boxes and plaques was a popular hobby called pyrography. Kits and blanks with pre-printed patterns abounded, available in hobby shops and dime stores everywhere. Many look like cigar boxes, but aren’t. This particular box is the only pyrographic  pattern I’ve ever seen that was an actual cigar box intended to be reused by the hobbyist. Cigars were made by the unusually named Light Horse Squadron Cigar Company in Milwaukee (Fact. 724, 1st  tax district WI). Confused by what you have? Proof is always in the ID. No ID? Not a cigar box.    [3374]


    Novelty boxes are frequently shaped like other objects. The Cuban cigar industry has long been famous for its carved and inlaid boxes. This  distinctive limited edition cigar box carved like a  tobacco bale was used by Por Larrañaga just after the turn of the 19th-20th century. Measures  7” x 7.5” x 4.5” and has a relatively plain Larrañaga paper label inside.


Visit the exhibit of Cuban chests, cabinets and novelties by clicking here.


    The 25/13 shape isn’t novel, nor is the pretty-girl theme. The celluloid material certainly is.

Celluloid humidors turn up with some regularity but in 55 years I’ve only seen two cigar boxes made from the distinctive material, and none prettier than this bright red one used by Mugge & Treckmann, 105 Liberty St. in Brooklyn (Fact. 1163, 1st Dist. New York) c1900.    [3407]   [3408]

       An irresistible Cuban novelty box of 12 cigars sold circa 1900 and intended to be used as gift photo albums. At least two different labels are known, both decorated with lace. Using lace for trim goes back as far as the 1870’s in the U.S., perhaps earlier in Cuba. At some future date, I hope to put up an exhibit of various uses of lace in cigar boxes. This, in my estimation, is one of the prettiest cigar labels I’ve ever seen.  A curator’s favorite.

[4158]  [4160]



NCM Home        Types of Wooden boxes        Novelty Boxes        Uprights

Selection of novelty uprights, most intended to be reused for other purposes. Visit the Uprights exhibit to learn more about these and other interesting boxes in which cigars stand on end.

      [9804]                       [9805]                        [2809]                         [2834]                          [2866]

    Two wonderful novelties from The Netherlands.  The KAVEEWEE truck held 100 cigars, but exact date of use is unknown.  The KAREL I wooden shoe held 10 and was sold as a souvenir aboard the Holland-America Line ships during the 1930’s. Inside the shoe is a deck of cards also sold aboard.

Indisputable proof that Americans, Cubans and Canadians aren’t the only clever cigar packagers.

[3437]   [3436]

        Novelty radio box packed 25/5 with cigars

reportedly given away in the 1940’s to purchasers

of high-end Emerson radios or televisions. True?

¿Quien Sabe?  But a very nice box called a Baromidor issued patent 1874889.



    Nothing novel about the NW50/13 box but the canvas covered outer shell is more than a little unusual...and unnecessary? The cost to benefit ratio is questionable.

Cigars by E. Kleiner & Co., Fact. 1498. 3rd New York City,  1917.

[3414]   [3604]



Modern novelty packaging

    The novelty spirit lives on.  WHITE OWL Rangers were packed in this interesting  plastic cigar box. I’m looking for a magazine ad picturing it. The NCM has the duck but

not the original package seen here.



    The cigars are the novelty, not the box. These 11 inch “jumbos” originated in the 1880’s though these are almost 100 years newer. They were taxed and packed according to different rules because the US Government considered them tobacco novelties, not cigars.

    Jumbos were usually cellophaned, with the bands providing possibilities of a custom touch. Jumbos are commonly sold as souvenirs of places or events, including political conventions, national parks, and the like. The most common jumbo brand is COVERED WAGON.


To visit the Jumbo exhibit, click <here>.


The spirit of innovative packaging didn’t fade into history when the modern era began evidences by this clever modern novelty made to look like a military ammunition case. Wording like “factory loaded” “caliber” and “Revolution” carry on the theme.

    High prices of modern cigars give companies better profit margins, thus permitting expensive and often innovative boxes.



An 1881 Catalog Excerpt  

        The catalog excerpt (below)  was copied from a small 1881 4-pager put out by one of Brooklyn’s 600 factories. With 10 rollers Kohler Bros. at 372 Hudson Ave. was one of the borough’s 30 largest cigar manufacturers and one of the few with a published catalogs of any size. Ads listing or depicting novelty boxes are quite rare. If you own ANY novelty-type cigar container not seen in any of the Exhibits at the top of this page, please write me at <>.