By 1980, cigar label art made it to local TV screens. Collectibles expert David Lisot did an entire program on cigar labels on his Financial News Network show, and PBS stations throughout Ohio offered cigar art as a featured fund-raising premium. When wisconsin station WBGU offered contributors a choice between an original 100-year-old patriotic cigar label, a Sesame Street book, or a natural history book, the cigar labels won out by a ratio of 3-to-1. Interesting market research, to say the least.
Although some living collectors might like to think that they "pioneered" the collecting of cigar label art, history relates a much different scenario. Notable early collectors included: author George Bernard Shaw, financier John Jabob Astor, singer Lillian Russell (who smoked 15 cigars a day), the Duke of Windsor, and actor Clark Gable. The list for the second half of this century includes collector extraordinaire Malcolm Forbes, Sr., former Texas governor John Connally, computer genius and past president of Mensa (the high I.Q. society) David Black, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and former president Ronald Reagan.
No one can possibly predict what the future holds, but as a rare collectible art form, cigar labels have a lot going for them. A finite quantity has survived and, given the complicated printing process involved in producing them, it is virtually impossible to reproduce them. Unlike coin collecting, where a mintage of 300,000 is considered "super-rare," the largest known quantity of any cigar label is around 80,000, and that was a very unique situation. Most images that have survived range from one-of-a-kind to approximately 500, and over 95% of all surviving labels fall into this category.
Personally, I am quite pleased with the type of individuals that have been attracted to cigar label collecting. they seem to love and appreciate the history and high level of workmanship involved in producing them, and consider the investment and appreciation aspect as just an extra bonus.
It would be interesting to compare an investment of $10,000 in cigar label art five years ago against the same investment in the "contrived collectibles," such as sports cards and other ephemeral items cranked out by the milions on photo-mechanical presses running 24 hours a day. Collectibles dealers get dozens of calls per day from "investors" wanting to unload full cases of baseball cards stored in their attics. I can't remember the last time I got a call from someone wanting to "unload" any cigar labels.
If you would like to view some public collections, start with the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, the Art Gallery of Windsor (Ontario), the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City, or the University of South Florida at Tampa. In all instances, you will have to call and make an appointment since these treasures are held under lock and key, but it is certainly worth your time and effort.
Another avenue of instant education is the 3,000-word book, Art of the Cigar Label, written by yours truly in 1989. Compiled from ten years of travel and research in four countries, this large coffee-table book contains over 400 images printed in six colors.
Although my book can be found in most major libraries, a number of librarians have admised me that Art of the Cigar Label is restricted to "in library" research, since it has the dubious distinction of being one of the top ten most often stolen from the libaries. I guess that's a compliment of sorts.
Another excellent source of information is the two-year-old organization called Cigar Label Collectors International (CLCI), which prints a quarterly newsletter called the Stone Press. (Dues are $10.00 per year.) They can be reached at P. O. Box 66, Sharon Center, Ohio 44274. Also based in Ohio is the 25-year-old American Antique Graphics Society. Originally created to provide fine art provenance searches and appraisal services for institutional collectors, the society now also conducts sem-annual international mail and phone auctions of fine art (their last two have been totally tobacco related). They also loan out educational displays of labels and fine art, and provide speakers for organizations, univerities and "Smoke-Ins." You may write to them at Box 924, Medina, Ohio 44258, or call (216) 723-7172 for information.
Once you have absorbed as much knowledge as possible, (and you know that knowledge is power), about the history of cigar making, you will realize that very few other industries dating back to Columbus have had such a profound effect on the world during the past 500 years. Their very existence drove the lithographic industry to new heights.
About the Author ... |
Joe Davidson is the author of the best-selling
Art of the Cigar Label,> now in its second print-
ing, and is also a partner in the 20-year-old Aaron's
Archives, a wholesale distributor of 100-to 700-year-
old fine art.
Joe's talent for fine art was recognized early via a
scholarship to the prestigious Cleveland Institute of
Art in 1949. As an art scholar and collector, he has
contributed important commentary and art objects to
many universities and museums, including three major
donations to the Smithsonian.