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I just adore the artwork from antique cigar boxes ... the decorative borders, the delicate scrollwork, the gold embossed flourishes, the typography. The amount of time and effort involved in designing and producing these labels is just astounding. It often took months of planning and several thousand dollars (a lot of cash in the 1800s) to see an idea through to the final product, according to the ever-knowledgeable Cigar Label Blog:
The process started with a sketch or painting. Once approved, it was sent to the lithographic department, where a specialist created a key line drawing, a black-and-white interpretation resembling a paint-by-numbers diagram. Staff lithographic artists then translated the drawings onto lithographer’s limestone.
Progressive proofs were developed for each color. Better labels were printed using 12 colors, each requiring a separate stone and press run. After 1890, additional runs were required for embossing and gilding (done with a bronze powder and shoe-shine-type buff wheel). Finally, printers applied their technical skills making final adjustments getting final approval for printing.
What many collectors aren’t aware of is although hundreds of thousands of cigar label images were created the original artwork almost never survived. It was standard practice of printers to destroy the originals as soon as the lithographers had transferred them to stone. If an artist insisted on his work being returned, the paintings were usually defaced or cut.

Both of the labels above come from prominent lithographic artist O.L. Schwencke, who operated out of New York City from 1887-1908. If you can't get enough of the vintage smoking ephemera, check out my new Humidor collection. Culled from turn-of-the-century cigar box labels, these feature some truly stunning portraits with antique gold embossing, lush colors and a great aged appearance.

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