Types of Cigar Boxes


23 you’re most likely to find

Hyman’s Cigar History Museum EXCLUSIVE

© Tony Hyman

Minor update: June 29, 2011

            There are two kinds of cigar boxes: wood and everything else. Between 1800 and 1960 around 80% of all cigar boxes were made of wood. That amounts to somewhere around 8,000,000,000 (a reasonable estimate) wooden cigar boxes.  

     Another 2,000,000,000 cigar “boxes” were made of cardboard, tin, glass, plastic, tin foil, aluminum, pewter, brass, china, ceramics, silverplate and palm leaves. Each of these materials is covered elsewhere in detail.

    This exhibit is not exhaustive; hundreds of thousands of different cigar boxes exist and I’m narrowing it is a pictorial overview of shapes and materials used between 1762 and 1962 to hold cigars between factory and customer that you, the reader, are most likely to find in twenty-first century America.

                        A summary page with links to all types of boxes, cans

                     and jars on exhibit in the NCM, can be found <here>.

    Numbers in brackets [0000] are catalog numbers of the original digi-photo.

1. Nailed Wood  (NW):


        The most common box was what box makers descriptively and unromantically call a “standard Nailed Wood box,” abbreviated NW.  Other than a change in lid design in the early 1880’s, Nailed Wood boxes have remained the same for 200 years: six pieces of wood, 14 nails and a muslin hinge.


        Wood can be cut and nailed into an almost endless variety of sizes and shapes of box.  By far the most common 20th century wooden boxes held 50 cigars packed 4 deep 13 across or 25 cigars packed 2 deep 13 across.  The short row on the bottom was completed with a wooden or cardboard “block” to take the place of the missing cigars so all the rows stacked evenly.


        OLD ABE from 1926 and HARVESTER from 1938 typify what box makers and collectors call NW 50/13 and NW 25/13 boxes.

                              To see the variety of Nailed Wood boxes, click

        Nailed Wood boxes are typically “trimmed.”

2. Nailed Wood with Hardware  (NWH):

     When box makers and collectors refer to a “Nailed Wood with Hardware” (abbreviated NWH) they mean a standard nailed wood box, but instead of being edged and trimmed with paper labels, it is left plain wood. Instead of a muslin hinge, two brass hinges are used. Almost all NWH boxes use the same type hinge.   About 25% of the NWH boxes have clasps (many varieties) and are said to have “full hardware” (abbreviated NWHC). This c1885 NWH 100/20 cheroots box has an overall lid, not common on NWH boxes.  Also uncommon is the very rough wood with distinct saw marks. NWH boxes were used plain or could be ordered sanded and varnished. [4234]

    Ad copy on NWH boxes is normally printed directly on the box (POB) one piece of wood at a time by hand-fed steam driven presses. Black is the most common ink, with gold the next most often seen. Red is third, with everything else a distant fourth.  [4233]


        Boxmakers often integrated die cuts into the designs of NWH boxes. You will find NWH boxes with standard inner labels, but that’s not typical. Box Liners are often blue, pink, or grey paper instead of the more typical cream. NWH boxes were most popular 1885 to 1910, but are not uncommon later. Later ones are inevitably very plain. NWHs remained around until the 1930s (and can be ordered today).


To see an Exhibit of NWH boxes, click

To see an Exhibit of hinges & clasps, click

        When a customer tells a box maker he wants a “trimmed box” he is saying shorthand for :


“The entire box is to be edged with inch wide paper strips, the inside of the lid has a paper label, the sides and bottom are lined with paper, and various tags, flaps, banners and price stickers are attached as needed. The outside top of the lid is to be branded or labeled, the front may be imprinted with the name given that size and shape of cigar, and all proper legal notices are attached or printed on the box.”


        You can see why people shortened it to “trimmed.”  


        Most trim was pasted on by the box maker. The cigar factory also added trim to boxes, putting on the outer label, color mark (on one end), nail tag, and revenue stamp. Sizes, shapes, colors and placement of trim has changed only slightly over time.


To learn about trim, please be patient. Exhibits are planned about label types, nomenclature and how and where they were ordered, designed,  manufactured and applied.


3. Boite Nature  (BN):

        A very specific style which must be all wood, have hinges, a clasp, an inside collar and interlocked corners. The collar is never glued, but remains loose.  The “true BN” does not use an inside paper label or liner and the wood is unfinished. One end of the box is often imprinted BOITE NATURE.  The style is most common from 1920 to 1940 but seen from 1900 to now. Most BN’s are 50/13.


        The two biggest users of BN boxes were Jose Escalante (CORINA) and T.E. Brooks (BROOKS & CO.). Neither brand has collector value, though both have been used to make musical instruments. BN’s were frequently used for private labels for hotels, tobacconists, men’s clubs, restaurants, and the like.


        To see an Exhibit of BN boxes click


4. Semi-boite Nature (SBN):  

      An untrimmed box made entirely of wood that has some of the characteristics of a BN box, but not all, is called a “semi-boite nature” or SBN. For example, an SBN might be made without a collar, or have nailed corners rather than interlocked.  


       All cigar boxes are custom boxes to some extent because cigars were measured by 1/32 of an inch, and the box ordered had to fit the cigars made. When the design of a box changes to something ‘non standard’ it’s usually called an SBN.


      A great many modern cigar boxes are SBNs.


5. Cuban Chests and Cabinets:  

    Royalty, nobility, politicians and wealthy folks in general have ordered their cigars in fine chests and cabinets since the 1700’s. In broad terms, Cabinets are larger, had doors and the cigars were likely to stand on end.  Chests were smaller, had lift-lids, the cigars laid on their side, and looked more like a personal humidor.

Most large cabinets were plain, labeled only with the maker’s marca. Chests were generally inlaid, monogrammed, or labeled with the family crest.  Considering the beauty of chests and the utility of cabinets, it is surprising how few have survived. This fine inlaid chest held HOYO de MONTERREY cigars made for General Jose Miguel Gomez, the 2nd President of Cuba.


    To see an Exhibit of Cuban chests, cabinets and novelties, click


6. Assortments:

        Any cigar box which holds different sizes and shapes of one brand of cigars is called an “assortment,” a type of packing that seems to date back to the 1880s. Most that are found seem to date much later.  Assortments are used both as salesmen’s samples and Christmas gifts to the modern day.


        “NWC 13/13 assortment 4” is the short way of saying this is a “nailed wood box with a clasp that held 13 cigars all of them in the top row which is divided into four different size sections.”


   To see an Exhibit of Assortments, click


7. “Your Choice”  

     A distinct style of cigar box found in both NW and NWH boxes is called “Your Choice” because it offered smokers an opportunity to ‘vote’ for an actress (ala American Idol) or a political candidate.

    Other “Your Choice” boxes offered one cigar, but in different colors or strengths.  Cigar marketers offered “Choice” boxes as far back as the 1870’s, but their popularity diminished greatly by 1920.      [4272]

  To see an Exhibit of “Choice” boxes, click


8. Novelties:  

    First permitted by U.S. law in 1878, novelty boxes are those out of the ordinary,  boxes you might not recognize as cigar boxes. The most common novelty boxes are books, trunks and log cabins. Other shapes include bottles,           
A firecracker is #1 on my “Boxes Wanted” list.
barrels, mail boxes, cheese boxes, deed boxes, vehicles, radios, billiard tables, giant cigars and firecrackers.

    Some Novelties are designed to be used in some practical way when emptied, and are therefore called “re-usables.” Cigar boxes have been created to be used as games of checkers, backgammon or cribbage, while others were intended to become banks, attache cases, letter files, desk accessories, and the like. 100 Dutch cigars were packed in this child’s truck in the days before WWII, though the exact year is not recorded.

[3456] top

[3437] bottom

To see a series of Exhibits featuring all types of Novelty packaging, click


9.  Wooden Novelties of the Depression:

      During the 1930’s, a time when few men could afford to buy a whole box of cigars, many cigar retailers ordered dual purpose novelty packaging, offering a bonus to the buyer: cigars for him; a jewelry box for her. More than 100 different designs are known in wood and metal, but variations of these red cedar “pirate’s chests” are the most common.  [3358]


        Machine-made cigars combined with the Great Depression of the 1930’s to drive out of business the smaller makers of hand made cigars selling from 10¢ to 25¢.  Eight of every ten cigars sold during the 1930’s were machine made and cost 5¢ or less. Fancy wooden boxes holding nickel cigars were offered in an amazing array of styles.  [4382]


To see an Exhibit of Depression Novelty, click


10. Tin Boxes:

   The tax law of 1870 allowed cigar boxes to be made of tin for the first time. The earliest tin boxes are hand soldered and have paper labels, but a few exquisitely printed boxes have survived from the 1880’s & 90’s. Printed tin before 1900 is scarce as ink and manufacturing techniques were in their infancy, resulting in high waste and expensive tin boxes. Multi-color boxes were being successfully printed, but monochromatic sports-themed gems by Brooklyn’s Vogel Litho. are among collector favorites. Over time, early tin boxes were susceptible to damage from rust and extreme heat or cold causing cracks in the ink.  [2907]


     Compared to Nailed Wood boxes, tin cans and boxes tend to have simplistic designs, the majority printed  by photo-mechanical processes in four or fewer colors. But a few spectacular exceptions exist, among them JULIA MARLOWE, a distinctive pre WWI Canadian cigar box honoring her Broadway performance in Romeo and Juliet.   [2923]  A Curator’s Favorite.


     The all time largest user of tin containers was Pennsylvania’s Bayuk Bros. for their nationally popular PHILLIES. During the 1920’s and 30’s four different 50/13 styles with dozens of different inside Banners made an appearance as did an equal number of 25/ups in tin. The gradual name  shift from PHILADELPHIA PERFECTOS to being marketed as PHILLIES is documented in their tin boxes.  [3157]

To see an Exhibit of 19th Century tin boxes, click

To see an Exhibit of 20th Century tin boxes, click

To see an Exhibit of tin PHILLIES boxes, click


12.  Pocket Tins:  

    Pocket tins holding 10 cigars in two rows of 5 came  on the market immediately after the Tax laws of 1910 permitted “large” cigars to be packed in 10’s. Pocket tins have slip tops not hinges.  Between 4” and 5” long, they usually have the ad-copy horizontal like this one.


     Emerson was a fairly popular brand, lasting more than 40 years. Cigars made by Lewis Cigar Co. in Illinois during the 1920’s.  [2965]


To see an Exhibit of tin Pocket Tins, click


11.  Flat Tens:   

      The small 3± inch square hinged “tin 10/10” (popularly called a “flat ten”) was used for cigarettes and cigarette size cigars (weighing under 3 lbs. per 1,000). Small flat tens appeared on the market right after boxes of 10 small cigars were made legal in 1897. Many of the factories that specialized in these diminutive smokes were located in NYC, Baltimore and Virginia. Before World War One, most competitors were either purchased or run out of  business by the Tobacco Trust.  [2988]


     On breakup of the Trust in 1911, P. Lorillard obtained BETWEEN THE ACTS, a brand of small cigars with two decades worth of brand recognition. After WWI Lorillard packed BTA in flat 10’s, and for 30 years BETWEEN THE ACTS was one of the biggest selling cigars sold in tin. A surprising two dozen or more other brands of small cigars were still being packed in similar tins as late as the 1950’s.   [2991]


To see an Exhibit of tin Flat 10’s, click


13.  Lunch Boxes:  

   Smoking tobacco manufacturers were more likely to pack in lunch boxes than were cigar makers, butt a handful of interesting cigar lunch boxes were made.

    Retailers didn’t much like them because they were hard to stack. This WHITE HEN was made in 1909 and uses paper labels.  [7906]

    Most lunch boxes, including the popular CINCO and GREEN TURTLE boxes, are printed directly on the tin. [2950]

    No matter what tobacco products were packed inside, lunch boxes were popular with school kids and their fathers. Yes, they really were used as lunch boxes when emptied.

If you own a photo of a man or child that shows a tin being used as a lunch box, I would like to buy it or copy it for Museum display.

14.  Tin Cans:  

   The use of round tin slip top cans appears to date from the early 20th century, about the time BUSTER BROWN was a popular comic in the newspapers. Tin cans were especially popular 1910 to 1940 after the depletion of Cuban and Central American cedar and mahogany forests made cigar box wood more expensive.  


      Almost all tin cans were “tin 50/up” and “tin 25/up” with the other 1% used for cans holding 10, 12 and 100 cigars. Most 50/up cans are round, though square shaped 50/ups are also found.  Stogie cans are usually about an inch taller than cigar cans. P.S.: Stogies and cigars are not the same thing.


      Five rows of five cigars was so logical a package that tin 25/up cans were more often square than round, though both are seen. Ad copy on both 25 and 50/ups was applied with paper labels or with the graphics lithographed directly onto the tin, the latter usually the more collectible. A display stand or glass display lid is a major plus. This TENNYSON display dates from the 1920’s.


      Upright cans were also made oval and rectangular and with hinged, slip top and vacuum lids. Pictured here are a 10/up oval slip top, 12/up rectangular slip top and a 25/up hinged rectangle, all lithographed on tin. Of these, the ELIMINATOR is the most rare brand and box shape.  


    STATE JOURNAL is a 25/up hinged rectangle (some call oblong) with paper label along side a 50/up hinged oval. These tins date from 1910 to 1930. Post WWII use of tin declined in the face of cheap cardboard boxes.  DUTCH MASTERS (not pictured) is one of the few brands to make extensive use of tin after 1960.


      No matter how old a tin can, scratches, rust, or missing lids are serious defects.  There is no such thing as “good for its age.”


To see an Exhibit of tin cans, click


15.  Tin Novelties:  

     Since the late 1870’s, tin and other metals have been used to create novelty cigar packaging. By 1910, tin lunch boxes, cash boxes, deed boxes and other “reusables” were being made from tin. A tin beer stein cigar can appeared in 1914. This octagonal upright was used shortly before WWI by Lickett, Luchs & Lipscomb, cigarmakers in Gilbertville, PA, to sell their LA SUCRENA brand.



        Like all tin, novelty boxes must be in fine condition to be of interest.



16.  Metal Novelties of the 1930’s:  

   Competition to survive during the Depression when cigars were a luxury led cigarmen to use novelty packaging that offered a bonus to the buyer: cigars for him; a jewelry box for her. I’ve seen these lovely boxes in both 50/13 and 100/13 sizes, the former the more common. Colors include black, brown, tan and green. Alligator and chrome surfaces are also seen. More than 30 different pictures have been reported in the windows, apparently left overs from a calendar company. These boxes almost always have mirrors inside the lid. Inevitably the Tax Class notice reports the contents selling at 5¢ or less.


To see an Exhibit of 1930’s novelty boxes, click


17.  Aluminum and other Metals:  

     Aluminum, brass, foil and silver plate have all been used to manufacture retail cigar boxes and packages. Plate is in evidence in the 1890’s, and was probably used earlier. Aluminum appears in the 1890’s, but brass boxes and cans haven’t been reported before the 1930’s.


      F.R. Rice, a St. Louis distributor and cigar maker, was a packaging innovator, using aluminum, glass, and other materials as distinctive packages during the Golden Age before 1915.  [2518]



    This lovely brass box was used to hold 100/17 cigars in the 1930’s, but not all boxes that look like this are cigar boxes. This was a stock item, sold by the box maker to retailers and packers of other products as well as cigars. Look for the ID printed on the wooden bottom.  [3422]


To see an Exhibit of metal boxes, click


18.  Cardboard Boxes:  

      Cardboard has been used for cigar boxes in the U.S. and Cuba since the 1850’s when the first machine-made cardboard was introduced. This cheaper more uniform cardboard became a hit with retailers looking for light weight boxes for hats, shoes and other products, including cheap cigars. Cardboard cans and shoe boxes were used for cigars first, both before the Civil War. Around 1870, a few cigars were sold in thick cardboard boxes nailed together like standard nailed-wood boxes, then came light two-piece slide-packs for small cigarette-size smokes in the 1880’s.  The variety of sizes and shapes of cardboard box is amazing. Sadly, their fragile nature means that few from the 1800’s have survived.  

      It wasn’t until the late 1930’s that a machine capable of automatically producing a compete finished standard size cardboard box was introduced. WWII delayed implementation, but by 1960 two-thirds of domestic cigars appear to have been packed in machine made cardboard.


      Round, square and rectangular upright cans have been made of cardboard since the 1850’s. Stogie makers were especially likely to use cardboard in the 1800’s as a cost-cutting move, though this 1910 octagonal can is unusual.  [2858]


 To see an Exhibit of cardboard boxes, click


19.  Cardboard 5 and 10 Packs:  

      Packages of 5 and 10 regular size cigars were made legal in 1910. Cardboard quickly became the material of choice. There are many variations of 5/5 cardboard packs, the two most common seen here. Most today, like FORE, are printed and die cut, then folded and glued along one edge and shipped flat from the printer. The design looks right out of the 1940’s but is actually from the 1970’s.  [3571]


      Is FORE really a good brand name for a box of FIVE cigars? “Gimme Fore cigars” does not flow trippingly on the tongue when you really want five.


20.   Cigarillo Boxes:  

    Though Cigarillos seem to have first appeared on the market in the 1940’s, the pencil-thick machine rolled smoke didn’t have much market impact until General Cigar’s huge and successful 1950’s campaign to market their ROBT. BURNS version. Nearly every national cigar brand was forced to follow suit. Cigarillo boxes are inevitably cardboard roughly 4” x 5” and vary little in size from brand to brand.  Prices range from 3/10¢ to a nickel. The various brands will use other diminutive frontmarks including Petites, Juniors, Babies, Miniatures, Intermissions, Cadets, Ponies, etc.


To see an Exhibit of cigarillo boxes, click


21.   Plastic Boxes:  

     Most plastic boxes date after World War II, though a few earlier ones exist. Only a few brands used plastic extensively, especially EL PRODUCTO and CORINA.  


      During the Early Modern Age of the 1960’s and 70’s MARK IV and HOUSE OF WINDSOR used black and brown boxes to indicate the color of the cigars inside. Plastic boxes are brittle, tend to have weak hinges and are very subject to sun damage. [3506]


To see an Exhibit of boxes made of plastic, click


22.   Glass Boxes and Jars:  

       Glass has been used to pack Cuban cigars as early as the 1850’s, and possibly earlier, but the oldest mentions are of glass “chests” rather than jars. Ads for companies making glass jars for packing cigars are found as early as 1860 in the United States. Jars were particularly popular 1910 to 1940.


    Jars are rarely found with all their labels, government warnings and revenue stamps intact, even more rarely are they seen full.


      LA PALINA was the most popular cigar packed in glass jars, both round and 16 sided. The latter was introduced after retailers complained of dropping the heavy slick round jars through glass countertops. [2821]


      ID’s were required to be molded into the glass, so there’s seldom any doubt whether you’re holding a cigar jar or not. This fancy pressed glass cigar jar used by F.R. Rice Mercantile Co. of St. Louis has the ID hidden in one of the rosettes centered around the jar.   [2810]


      Wooden and tin boxes were also made with glass tops and / or fronts.


To see an Exhibit of jars and boxes all or partly made of glass, click


23.   Uprights:  

    Any retail cigar box in which 10 or more cigars stand on end is called an “upright.”  Uprights come in every imaginable material. Tin is the most common and glass the next so, but with a little effort, today’s collector can also find uprights made of wood, brass, pottery, plastic, porcelain, aluminum, silver plate, cardboard and pewter. Some are novelties, whereas others are ordinary wood or cardboard boxes.

      How many ways can you pack cigars on end? The surprisingly large number testifies to man’s ingenuity.  The nine you see in the photo give only a hint of the shapes and materials.


To see an Exhibit of uprights, click


NCM Home        Links to All Box Types