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Novelty Cigar Boxes: The Second Wave

Feb 27, 2008
From mug-shaped cigar boxes to gameboard boxes, the cigar makers of the world have shown great creativity in packaging their wares, and no period was more fertile for the cigar-box collector as that from 1878 to the early twentieth century. (All info here courtesy of the National Cigar Museum.)

The novelty cigar box began with a Federal decision in 1878, when postal codes were changed to allow packages of cigars (a heavily-regulated good, in the post-Civil War economy) to be mailed in any shape or size, as long as you could still put a stamp on 'em. This legislative loosening just happened to come along at a moment when new tobaccos were being developed and demand, stimulated by a generation of Union soldiers who'd had to pass through tobacco country and acquired the smoking habit, was rising.

New customers, new tobaccos, new products - companies were willing to try anything to distinguish themselves from the competition, and, not incidentally, to tempt smokers into buying not an individual cigar but the entire box. And so a sort of golden age resulted: the late-nineteenth century saw some of the goofiest, cleverest, and most memorable product design lavished on cigars.

And then, things changed. Novelty packaging died out for a while during the early part of the twentieth century, only to see its fortunes change again during the Great Depression - a time, strangely enough, when many Americans could not afford entire boxes of cigars, and when the premium-cigar industry experienced harshly competitive conditions thanks to the emergence of machined-rolled cigars and cigarettes.

Novelty cigar boxes made a comeback, fueled by cigar makers' hopes to revive by-the-box sales. Boxes from this period are often "practical," designed for household use even after their packaging function is served, and - in a much more radical departure from previous cigar marketing efforts - they were designed to appeal to the wives or girlfriends of the men who smoked the cigars.

Padlocked-box designs enjoyed considerable popularity. Well-made enough, in many cases, to seem attractive and solid even today (when they turn up at auction), these were often made of fine woods such as red cedar; the Hudson Treasure Chest, for example, has copper trim and was originally issued with a key for its padlock. Art deco boxes were a popular choice as well.

From the Netherlands, there came cigar boxes shaped like wooden shoes - the Karel I 10-count cigar box which was sold as a souvenir to passengers visiting Holland by boat during the decade. The shoe also contained a deck of cards. From another Dutch company came the Kaveewee truck - a little red delivery van, with a stogie-chomping driver painted on the sides and front, hollow on top and containing up to 100 cigars.

Finally, there were radio-shaped cigar boxes given away by Emerson, the electronics companies, to purchasers of new radios and televisions. Packed with twenty-five cigars, these boxes were built to resemble those waved-top, stolid little brown radios that sat in so many American living rooms broadcasting the adventures of Dick Tracy (or, more importantly, the first reports from the Blitz of London by Edward R. Murrow).

Book-shaped cigar boxes date back to the 19th century: even before the 1878 law change that encouraged a flood of novelty boxes, book-shaped boxes weren't hard to find; their shape was close enough to standard postal boxes as not to run afoul of the more stringent pre-1878 law. But this tradition continued into the second golden age of novelty packaging; especially notable is a 1936 box with a red "spine," reading "Democratic National Convention 1936." On the other end of the commercial scale from this political giveaway item, consider the once-ubiquitous red-cedar boxes embossed with the words "The Sweetest Story Ever Told." (To which I'm tempted to reply, "Well, that depends on the kind of cigar inside.") Another favorite front motto: "Friendly Thoughts" (written in mock-Gothic, hymnbook-cover lettering).
About the Author
CigarFox provides the finest cigars that include cigar brands like Cohiba, Montecristo, Gurkha, Macanudo, Rocky Patel, Romeo, Drew Estate, and many more. Other cigar products include cigar humidors, cigar boxes, and cigar accessories like Zippo Lighters.
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