Typical of activities since  homo-something-or-other came down from the trees, women have been an integral part of gathering, growing and processing food and other crops. That was equally true of the tobacco and cigar industries ever since there was such a thing. Women’s role in growing and manufacturing tobacco on vegas (farms) and in fabricas (factories) is subject for another exhibit. The focus of this exhibit is the first 150 years (1725-1875) of women portrayed as cigar smokers.

We have to look to the chroniclers of world civilizations rather than our home grown artists and writers for pre-Golden Age depictions of women consuming the brown rolls.

    The earliest I’ve found so far is a 1732 print of “The Habit of a Malayan and his Wife at Bataria” published in A collection of Voyages and Travels by John and Awnsham Churchill in London. Both men carry pipes; the spouse is holding a cigar while being offered what is presumably a box of cigars or tobacco. The title indicates they both have a “habit” of tobacco use. Sadly, any text which originally accompanied the print is no longer present.

    The print of “Angela, Femme de I’ile de

Guham” by A. Villain (c. 1839) leaves no doubt that Angela is smoking a cigar. The print is from Souvenirs d’un aveugle by Jacques Etienne Victor Arago (1790-1855). A French writer, artist and explorer, Arago joined Louis de Freycinet on his 1817 voyage around the globe aboard the ship Uranie. The then-Spanish Island of Guam was one of their stops. Nearly every traveler’s account from the late 18th and early 19th centuries refers to heavy smoking of cigars and papelitos or cigarros de papel (or other names for cigarettes) among women and children in Spanish colonies.

    A favorite print, “Les Bas Bleus” (Blue Stockings) was purchased from a Parisian print dealer, one of two I found in a day shopping along the Seine. By France’s legendary Honoré Daumier in the satire magazine Le Charivari, the 1844 print pokes fun at cigarettes and the newly rich.

“How do you like this cigarette, madam?”

receives the reply “It has no taste. Only the wife of a stockbroker [symbol of the nouveau riche...TH] out for a good time could enjoy it. As to me, I only like the biggest and strongest cigars.”

    This was printed a decade and a half before the introduction of small-leafed Turkish “Oriental” tobacco changed the nature of European cigarettes.


Images of Women Smokers

The Early Years (1725-1875)

A National Cigar Museum Exclusive 

© Tony Hyman

Uploaded  May 6, 2010




    CARICATURES DE JOUR, caricatures of the day, entitled “La Tabacomanie ou le culte de Cigare en 1842” portrays as well as any print I’ve yet discovered the widespread fad of smoking cigars that had spread throughout Europe by the 1840s. Sour old grandpa sticks to his long-stemmed clay pipe, but soldiers, young boys, and their sisters, mothers and nannies have all taken up the cigar in this contemporary French magazine satire. Even an infant in arms puffs away, leaving no doubt as to the habit’s perceived wide appeal.


    British prints, this by W. Clerk, consistently appear to depict military men as cigar smokers. An extensive internet search failed to discover the meaning of “Presented with No. 11 of the Royal Victoria” printed at the bottom of this sexy delight. The reference would seem to suggest a periodical by that name, but remains uncertain.

    The woman isn’t a cigar smoker, but the appeal of this hand-colored mid 19th century British print, THE LAST NEW FASHION, is hard to deny.

    A member of the household staff finds her lover’s hat and cigar in her dressing room and confronts her.

    “My new military cap how do you like it Nurse?” she responds.

    “The cap may do very well, but if I catch you smoking cigars, I shall tell your mother,” counters the nurse.

    This upper class lovely smoking a cigar while taking tea, coffee or chocolate in her garden is likely to be the newest of the illustrations in this exhibit. Litho-graphed in Barcelona by that city’s most prominent artisan printer, C. Verdaquer, perhaps most famous as the printer of   Rev. Manuel Blancos’ Flora de Filipinas, first published in 1837, but not printed with botanical illustrations until 1877-1883, about the time of this painting. The painter, credited simply as J. Ventura, does not appear to be one of the Philippino artists who painted Blancos’ flora; nothing could be discovered about him.


    Spanish artists approached the

subject of cigars much differently than their British and French counterpoints. Both cigars and the women who enjoyed them were treated with respect, not ridicule, and their appeal to all classes, not just “loose women” and “working girls,” is clear. This woman is enjoying her smoke in the classic relaxed manner allowed men and women of the leisure class.

    The young women of this mid-19th century print are equally relaxed enjoying the comforts of home around the hearth. The attractive young French woman who sold me this newspaper-reading cigar smoker in green described the women as “prostitutes” but I hadn’t the French nor she the English to explain how she came to that conclusion. Nor is there any indication of the print’s age or nationality, but second half of the 19th century seems reasonable. It was long ago pasted to lightweight cardboard obscuring any information perhaps on the reverse.

    Smoking on the streets was common-place though almost universally thought of as bad manners. Most of the British satire prints depict women bothered by the cigar smoking of both their escorts and passing strangers. This full-page street-scene illustration entitled “Mode

I le femmes” in an 1839 issue of the French satire magazine Charivari reverses the roles, deliberately and assertively it would seem.

    The social status and occupation of these cigar-smoking billiard playing women might equally be called into question. Though their presence seems accepted by the other patrons, at least two of whom in the uncropped print also appear to be women of indeterminate character, their actions are daring, even for 1840 Paris. The title of the 100mm x 81mm (16 5/8” x 13 1/2”) print reads “Le Tohu Bohu Plaisant” on top and subtitled on the bottom as “Un Bon Coup de Gueuel.” Lithography by the

Bettennier Freres  as part of a set, this being number 24.






    Popular French artist, Henry Emy, book and magazine illustrator and creator of posters, and a myriad of other images, drew this guitarist as part of a series of caricatures of cafe concert players. Musicians and actresses, seen as the “Bohemians” of society, were frequently depicted, probably correctly, as smokers. “La Muse des Cafes Concerts attendant les Consommateurs” is the title of this litho published by Fernique & Cie. in Paris.



    The final image in this exhibit is from the U.S., but is international in theme: American icon Currier & Ives’ 1876 comment on the smoking preferences of world leaders. Only Germany and the Queen of England aren’t smoking cigars. Germany’s pipe was the old choice for tobacco consumption; Queen Victoria’s would eventually become the new...when cigarettes would outsell cigars. That wouldn’t be for another 45 years...forty-five years that would become the Golden Age of Cigars, 1875-1920.

    Did the views of women smokers change? Were portrayals in the U.S. similar to those from Europe? You’ll have to read Part II to see.

NCHM Home        Sexy Ladies of the 80s        Cigar History

A peek at women, naughty and nice, who will be featured

in Part II of Women Smokers. In progress.