Sometime in the 1850’s Cuban cigarette manufacturer Louis

Susini began bundling his smokes in colorful 4 3/4” x 3 3/8” 

paper wrappers, one of the earlier uses of full color lithographic

labels to package a product. No one knows who came up with

the brilliant idea to design the labels in sets, thus becoming the

first use of a collectible to sell tobacco, but it was a stroke of

marketing genius. The use of these wrappers had three impor-

tant consequences: [1] sets encouraged collectors, thus multiple

purchases, [2] collecting generated publicity and [3] the ever-

changing sets became a major weapon in Susini’s worldwide

battle with counterfeiters.

    Because Cuban cigarettes were the most expensive in the world, generally selling for three to ten times as much as local brands, criminals in Europe, Asia and South America attempted to cash in by packaging cheap local cigarettes in fake Honradez labels. When Honradez began using the latest in printing technology to wrap cigarettes in colorful themed sets, like butterflies, fables and military uniforms rather than one standard black and white label, it made their package much more difficult to counterfeit. Periodically changing the designs and themes made it possible for Susini’s distributors to notify retailers in advance, “next month we’ll be shipping stamps of the world, the following month, views of the city of Naples.” Foreign counterfeiters, even if they were able to obtain advance notice of impending sets did not have time to create, print, wrap and deliver cigarettes in the appropriate wrappers for that [week/fortnight/month/indeterminate period].

    The clever pioneering artists at Honradez helped foil fakers by not only changing the theme and the number of pictures in a set, but by changing the borders surrounding the central image. Whether intentional or not, the lack of standard borders and the continually changing company logo depicting the statue of Justice that stood in front of the factory added to the faker’s dilemma. The lithographic stones for these labels were idiosyncratically hand drawn, though each series appears to have been created by a single artist.

    Susini’s charming and informative packages were so popular with children and adults alike that other Cuban companies were compelled to offer similar wraps. Cuban cigarettes of the 1860’s included Julian Rivas’s Figaro, Celestino Asay’s Florita, La Viuda (widow) de Garcia’s Mi Fama por el Orbe Vuela, Llaguno y Cia’s La Charanga de Villergas, Eduardo Guillos’s Para Usted, Anselmo del Valle’s H de Cabañas y Carvajal, La Dignidad,

La Africana, La Belleza, La Rosarito and Barcenas y Posadas.

For more than two decades Louis Susini’s La Honradez and other

companies continually created new cigarette package labels. Almost

4,000 different are reported to be in three scrapbooks housed in

the Jose Marti National Library in Cuba.

    This sample from the NCM collection is intended to show

the wonderful imagination, variety and artistry of cigarette

packaging 150 years ago.


La Honradez Cigarette Labels

The 1st Tobacco Collectible

A National Cigar History Museum Exclusive

© Tony Hyman

Last modified January 2, 2011

   These photos were shot outdoors on slide film in sunlight with a hand-held Minolta 7000 ten years ago, before I had the eBox. The lightweight paper used to print these wrappers often curled before I could snap the picture.

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