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Commentary: A Guy Walks Into a Cigar Shop…

29 Aug 2011

You browse a table where stacks of cigar boxes are arranged in rows, their closed lids decorated with shiny gold gilding and brilliantly colored images meant to attract your attention. You’re interested in the artwork on the box instead of the cigar’s style or brand. You see a young woman, seductive and sexily clad, her face passive and motionless. Coy but inviting. Confident and convincing, with a hint of a smile that says, “You can trust me.”

You pick up this box of cigars for a closer look at this pretty girl—she’s the centerpiece of a brilliant arrangement of symbolic imagery, a romantic fantasy world meant to satisfy you, and you only.

Around the woman, a wreath of gold coins appeals to your desire for wealth. Behind her, a flourishing tobacco plantation reflects her fertility.

A pair of men far away ride horses and play polo, and just over her right shoulder stands a Roman warrior—the point of his sword planted between his feet and his muscular arms folded patiently across the hilt, waiting for the pretty girl to stop looking at you and give her undivided attention to him. But she never does.

Despite the wealth that surrounds her, the fertile land, the sport, the heroic soldier waiting to take her in his arms, she never breaks her stare with you. From the moment you saw her, her eyes were planted firmly and eternally on you.

You can’t put this box of cigars down because doing so would mean rejecting beauty and denying yourself of this beautiful woman, this lithographed seductress. And what man has the power to refuse a woman like this?

You take the box to the counter and pay for your cigars, walking home with a new companion designed especially for you. The year is 1844. You are in Havana, Cuba.

For a 19th century cigar enthusiast, the artwork on the box and label are as attractive as the cigar itself. In 1837, Ramón Allones named a brand of cigars after himself and became the first to wrap a label around the end of a cigar. But it was nearly 40 years before that when the Cuban trademark office, in 1810, recorded the first two applications for cigar brand registration: B. Rencurrel by Bernardino Rencurrel and Hija de Cabañas y Carbajal, by Francisco Cabañas.

Cigar labels were one of the earliest forms of advertising and marked a shift to a consumer culture. Making the product unique, an attractive cigar label captured a customer’s attention and was as important as the cigar itself. Ramón Allones, arguably the pioneer of this technique, used manly images of military shields and spears, golden lions, royal crowns, and colorful banners of victory.

Years later it was Cuba Libre, and Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, that became popular themes on many cigar labels. But from the earliest cigars to the modern day Cuestra Rey, one image that has endured is that of the beautiful woman: the damsel in distress who can only be rescued by the man who lifts her off the cigar store shelf and carries her (and his billfold) to the nearest cash register.

Mark M

photo credit: Flickr

Drew Estate

9 Responses to “Commentary: A Guy Walks Into a Cigar Shop…”

  1. Franklin Monday, August 29, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    This is an excellent, well-written article that reminds us of the importance and beauty of cigar boxes.

  2. Philip Schumacher Monday, August 29, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    Trapped by the weather the man must write. Can we have a few paragraphs on the lovely curves in the goose neck sink trap. Can your associates not find you a date! Close the box, smoke the cigar

  3. Archibald Monday, August 29, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Being a cigar enthusiast entails much more than the mere act of smoking, in my opinion. All things related to cigar culture fascinate me, including cigar boxes. Let's not forget that, as the cigars themselves are an artisan craft, so too are the boxes and the artwork that adorns them. Thank you for this piece, Mark.

  4. Elvis Monday, August 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm #

    Wonderful imagery, good article. But I cannot relate to taking a whole box of cigars to the nearest cash register. Here in MN where I live the cigar tax is 70%. You'd have to be stupid to buy an entire box of cigars in this state when you can buy somewhere in cyberspace or from a neighboring state. I miss that opportunity and that sense of pride of selecting a box off a shelf and walking to the counter with my carefully thought out choice. There's a certain prestige you get from buying a box of stogies that we here in MN are denied….as is the state denied more tax revenue if their rate was lower.

  5. Elvis Monday, August 29, 2011 at 4:09 pm #

    Wonderful imagery, good article. But I cannot relate to taking a whole box of cigars to the nearest cash register. Here in MN where I live the cigar tax is 70%. You'd have to be stupid to buy an entire box of cigars in this state when you can buy somewhere in cyberspace or from a neighboring state. I miss that opportunity and that sense of pride of selecting a box off a shelf and walking to the counter with my carefully thought out choice. There's a certain prestige you get from buying a box of stogies that we here in MN are denied….as is the state denied more tax revenue if their rate was lower.

  6. EdMac Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 7:01 am #

    Nice post.

  7. Beringer Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 8:36 pm #

    Ah, finally! Literati. To a person who reads for a living, your inspired word-pictures are medicine for sore eyes. It anointest my head like the oil that runneth down Aaron's beard. (Biblical reference)

    As pants the heart for cooling streams … of copious smoke…

  8. onlinetobacco Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    Report width so great

  9. Craig Friday, September 2, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    JR Cigars used to sell a pretty good mild cigar called La Flor de Murias. The cigar was enjoyable, I guess, but the real attaction was the girl on the box. No man can help falling in love with her at first sight. Best cigar art I've ever seen, bar none.