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Log Cabins And Lincoln Rear Ends: The Strange World Of Collectible Cigar Boxes

Feb 27, 2008
When cigar giant CAO announced a special, officially-licensed cigar commemorating the long-running TV show The Sopranos, the combination seemed to make sense. What's less surprising than a cigar company saluting a universally-hailed TV show, whose "hero," Tony Soprano, was so often seen chomping the end of a premium cigar?

But some buyers were a little disconcerted when the limited-edition cigar came packaged in a box that looked like the back end of Tony Soprano's car.
However, the crazy CAO Sopranos box actually continues an honorable tradition: the novelty cigar box. 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.

For starters, there was the Immense Cigar box - a giant, two-foot-long cigar-shaped wood box holding within it 100 small cigars. (Children of the eighties, on reading about this bit of memorabilia, may remember those giant Darth Vader heads in which you could pack your Star Wars figures.) Made by the four-person Louis Simons cigar factory of New York City in 1878, this wonderfully literal-minded package (a cigar containing, well, cigars) was among the first to benefit from the Postal Service's rule relaxation.

Then there's 1877's Piper Heidsieck champagne-bottle packages. They were hand-turned on a lathe, and only 25 were made; each is a masterpiece of American craftsmanship. They could be unscrewed at the middle, with the cigars standing loosely up from the bottom of the bottle.

And you can't serve champagne without crackers and cheese, right? Cheese It cigars (not the most promising brand name ever) made a round cheesebox-shaped cigar package for its five-cent smokes during the year 1880. Now exceptionally rare, these elaborate cigar packages also include (on the inside of the top of the box) an illustration from a famous Central Park race walk held in 1878, with the nation's top race walkers depicted therein (one of them being menaced by a wheels of cheese!). This box is so sublimely silly and complex that it just barely escapes the otherwise-inevitable designation "cheesy."

And then, in a sort of act of meta-commentary, there was Foster, Hilson and Company's mailbox-shaped cigar box. Exploiting the new openness in postal laws, this company released mailboxes in the shape of the receptacle into which mail-order cigars were to go. Released in 1881, this novelty item (from the then-giant New York firm) must have been hard to stack, given that curved top.

Then there are the practical boxes: for example, a box with its own thermometer and calendar. Quite possibly a give-away by a bank company (the three existing Frank Pchaski cigar boxes that match this calendar-and-thermometer profile all have different year calendars on them), these late-1880s boxes allowed you to have a smoke and, uh - tell the temperature at the same time. And know what date it was. Perhaps "practical" is in the eye of the beholder.
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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