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Stogie Commentary: The Cigar Store Indian Mystery

26 Jun 2006

Much like the florescent glowing hue of the neon beer sign calls alcoholics into bars, the wooden cigar store Indian is the siren of stogie aficionados. These three dimensional, often life-sized sculptures are as synonymous with tobacconists as barber shop poles are with barbers. But what’s the story behind this centuries-old, mysterious emblem?

The history of the cigar shop Indian dates back to the early 1600s in Europe. Indians were widely associated with tobacco because they introduced the miracle crop to Europeans. And due to widespread illiteracy among the general population at the time, shop owners made it a habit to link their goods and services to easily recognizable insignia. So it was simply inevitable that tobacconists start using Indian figurines and statues to advertise their products to an uneducated populace.

But because only a handful of Europeans in the seventeenth century had ever really seen a Native American, early cigar store “Indians” looked more like Africans dressed up in Indian regalia. These initial carvings went by the monikers of “Black Boys” and – due to the tobacco-rich Jamestown settlement – “Virginians”. Eventually, as Europeans became more exposed to Native Americans and their culture, the carvings evolved into more accurate depictions of Indians.

Earlier cigar store Indians were almost entirely female (often depicted with a papoose), but it seems as though their male counterparts now dominate the tobacco advertisement industry. And while sidewalk obstruction laws have forced many American tobacconists to move their sculptures indoors (thanks again, paternalistic government, for looking out for our “interests”), today no stogie shop is complete without one.

As factions of a hyper-sensitive society call for the banishment of cigar store Indians (as they do our sports mascots), these intricate carvings remain the proud symbol of an honorable trade – beckoning Stogie Guys into tobacconists the world over.

-Patrick A


8 Responses to “Stogie Commentary: The Cigar Store Indian Mystery”

  1. Jerry Monday, June 26, 2006 at 2:25 pm #

    Nice piece guys! If you listen to any podcasts there is a podcast out there called “The Cigar Store Indian”. He only has two issues out there and hasn’t updated recently but its a good listen.

  2. Larry H. Friday, November 10, 2006 at 11:11 pm #

    Is it any wonder why cigars are so popular amongst conservatives and libritarians, for they are they ultimate badge for those who oppose the nanny state. Thake that Bloomberg!

  3. Sara Wilson Wednesday, April 4, 2007 at 11:01 pm #

    Excuse, and what you think concerning forthcoming elections?

  4. emma Monday, April 9, 2007 at 12:48 am #

    cool blog!

  5. Tima Tuesday, April 17, 2007 at 10:11 pm #

    nice photos of this blog

  6. Russell Barnes Friday, July 11, 2008 at 9:17 am #

    A web site showing many pictures of 19th century Cigar Store Indians

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. The Stogie Guys » Blog Archive » Stogie News: Got Wood? You’re Busted! - Monday, December 18, 2006

    […] First the anti-smoking zealots stripped business owners of their right to offer smoke-friendly accommodations, and now they’re attacking our harmless wooden decorations. Tobacconists and Stogie Guys beware because cigar store Indians are now officially under fire. […]

  2. The Stogie Guys » Blog Archive » Stogie Guys Friday Sampler XXXI - Friday, February 16, 2007

    […] 3) A cigar store Indian sold for an astonishing $69,000 this week at an antique show in Pennsylvania. The wooden figure – attributed to Sam Robb, New York, circa 1885 – stands over six feet tall while holding a package of cigars and a cube of tobacco. Click here for a brief history on these fascinating sculptures. […]