Ever wonder what brands were available in a remote small Western town in the late 1800’s?  Wonder no more.  The boxes in this Exhibit were sold 1875-1905 by merchants in the tiny County-seat town of Colusa, located in California’s central valley roughly 150 miles Northeast of San Francisco.

        When these boxes were emptied, they were used by county tax officials to store duplicate receipts and other documents between 1875 and 1905. Once filled with official papers, these and hundreds of other cigar boxes were stored in a warehouse on the edge of town. A century later, a violent rainstorm collapsed the old warehouse roof, soaking the boxes and records. An official decision was made to discard them. One of the men responsible for cleaning the mess salvaged a selection of relatively unharmed cigar boxes and took them home. A quarter century later he sold them to me.

        Statistically, it might seem logical to say the rescued boxes would provide a random look at what type of boxes were available at that time. Unfortunately, more than chance determined the ultimate selection. The size, shape and material of the boxes influenced which ones the tax collector originally brought home from the tobacconist. They are all nailed wood, chosen because they would be sturdier than cardboard boxes, tho the latter were widely used for stogies and cheap cigars and would have been available. Salvaged boxes are almost all uniformly sized boxes of 50 which suggests that odd sized boxes were rejected 100 years ago. The boxes used are almost all 50/13’s which means that 50/10’s were too short and 50/17’s too


The three sources of turn-of-the-century cigar factory information are the official Tobacco Trade Directories of 1886-87, 1893 and 1905.  In 1886, Colusa had only  Factory 211, a two-man operation owned by W. Waller. Boxes dating from 1889 with that number are labeled as being made by Hoenes & Kirschner of Colusa. By 1893, Colusa’s only cigar factory was Number 63 owned by S. Kirschner. In 1905 W.A. Waller was back, owning two factories of indeterminate size, numbers 5 and 82. A third factory, still assigned Number 63 by the Feds, was registered to Joe Steinmetz.

long for either the records or uniform storage. Lastly, the sample is influenced by the artsy factor. As a general rule, people, when they choose between two similar cigar boxes, almost always keep the most attractive. We know from surviving printer’s catalogs that most cigar label designs were nothing special, whereas the vast majority of surviving pre 1920 cigar boxes are decorated with very pretty labels. During the century between when these boxes were made and today, “natural selection” favored the attractive. The man from whom I bought them admits that, when searching through the soggy rubble, he salvaged “the prettiest” boxes he could find.

        These research caveats notwithstanding, the surviving boxes provide a better look at brands available in a small Western mining town than would a list in a ledger or the showcase contents seen in a photograph. The collection is biased in favor of attractive wooden 50/13s but they do demonstrate that cigars were shipped a long ways to market 125 years ago and that small town folks sometimes smoked expensive cigars. The boxes are displayed in the following order:

[1]  Boxes for cigars made in Colusa;

[2]  Boxes for cigars made elsewhere in California;

[3]  Boxes for cigars made in Florida;

[4]  Boxes for cigars made elsewhere in the United States;

[5]  Boxes for cigars imported from Cuba.


Small Town Choices

Colusa, California 1875-1905

A National Cigar Museum Exclusive

© Tony Hyman

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