Te Amo
September 21, 2006 10:36 AM   Subscribe

Cigar Box Labels are among the finest works of commercial art ever produced. Package designs proliferated during the 1800s, thanks to the development of the stone lithography technique. "Each label could involve a dozen highly skilled specialists,, take a month to create, and cost upwards of $6000.00 (in 1900 dollars) to produce." Images range from racy to rustic to romantic to racist, offering a glimpse into the changing popular fascinations of the 19th and 20th centuries.
posted by Miko (15 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, gorgeous stuff.
posted by arcticwoman at 10:41 AM on September 21, 2006

Quality work, Miko. If this wasn't already on Metafilter I would totally steal it and post it there!
posted by jonson at 10:46 AM on September 21, 2006

That's $130,000 in today's dollars, using the CPI.

posted by craniac at 10:53 AM on September 21, 2006

Great Jumping Jehosaphat! I think I saw ankles!

Please mark this as NSFW.
posted by loquacious at 12:02 PM on September 21, 2006

That's $130,000 in today's dollars, using the CPI.
-posted by Craniac

Wow, just wow. What the hell were the economics of cigar sales in this period? I have a hard time imagining that the margins could have supported this kind of capital outlay for what amounts to POS advertising (one assumes that the labels would all be on display in the cigar shop and might sway a potential buyer, but still...thats a lot of money).
posted by Chrischris at 12:29 PM on September 21, 2006

Very interesting post, especially since I have recently added cigar smoking to my box of vices (inspired by this guy, of course).

I may be getting myself into hot water here, but I am genuinely curious as to why you labelled the depictions of "Indians" on cigar boxes as racist. No doubt racial prejudice was prevalent at the time, along with massively exploitative economic and social relationships, but is the mere use of Indian names and likenesses necessarily racist - then or now?

It seems to me that many of the images, while highly stylized, do attempt to highlight the inherent nobility of their subjects (or is even this somehow condescending?). Indeed, it is the frequent contrast between the sensibility of the artists and the (crass) commercial purpose for which their work is employed that makes these boxes so interesting to me. Of all of the images I have seen, only this one seems overtly racist/triumphalist, and this one in fact seems to attack prevailing attitudes of prejudice and exploitation - but I am interested to read whether others react the same way.
posted by Urban Hermit at 12:39 PM on September 21, 2006

Interesting post, thanks. I always assumed that Nazareth's Rampant album cover was supposed to look like cigar box art, but now I'm not so sure.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:57 PM on September 21, 2006

I agree with Urban Hermit. I was baffled why the "racist" link was racist. Otherwise, nice post.
posted by FastGorilla at 1:07 PM on September 21, 2006

I am genuinely curious as to why you labelled the depictions of "Indians" on cigar boxes as racist.

Idealization (emphasizing the Noble Savage' idea) is one face of racism, sure. Another is using the different social mores of natives (bare breasts on women) to satisy the prurient interest of whites (by posing them in lascivious come-hither fashion). Another is depicting natives in forms of dress normally reserved for ceremonial wear as being used in battle or daily activities, or imagining forms of dress that may never have been in use.

But your point is certainly taken that almost all characters in these images are stereotyped or highly romanticized - in keeping with the general sentimentality and attempt at imposing social order that were 19th century hallmarks.

Anyway, I wasn't trying to make much of a political point there, just acknowledging the obvious and giving an interesting link a sensible home.
posted by Miko at 1:08 PM on September 21, 2006

But anyhow, if it makes us all feel better, here's a better racism link. Shoulda used that one, maybe, but it's too bad that the National Cigar Museum confined its discussion of racism to depictions of blacks. Is it that they consider the depictions of Indians to be, um, ethnography?
posted by Miko at 1:14 PM on September 21, 2006

Now that's a racist cigar box!
posted by stinkycheese at 1:17 PM on September 21, 2006

Thanks for the response, Miko. I guess I am just unsure where we should draw the line: should there be some demarcation between misrepresentations - however egregious or ignorant - and depictions intended to disparage the subject (as the horrifying images in your second racism link clearly are)? Or, would you say that the former reflects a 'wilful ignorance' of other cultures that is itself racist?
posted by Urban Hermit at 2:25 PM on September 21, 2006

But, as you point out, the purpose of the post is not political, and the cigar box images are worthy of discussion in their own right - so feel free to ignore the derail.
posted by Urban Hermit at 2:31 PM on September 21, 2006

By the way Urban Hermit, his last album is great! Seriously. Sorry for the derail.
posted by bashos_frog at 2:34 PM on September 21, 2006

I'd say that, beacuse racism is so often institutionalized to a degree where it's embedded in a culture, thus allowing a lot of people whose intentions aren't to hurt or disparage to participate in a racist system, we can't use intention as a guideline to whether something is deemed 'racist' or not. As in "I love the Jews! Jews are so funny, that's why they're some of our greatest comedians." The problem lies not in the statement made being necessarily negative but in assigning any characteristic to an entire group.

In other words, you don't have to be mean to be racist, nor do you have to be consciously trying to oppress someone. Awareness of race is always with us. I don't think we need to 'draw a line' so much as to just be aware of its action as a force in all of our lives.
posted by Miko at 3:40 PM on September 21, 2006

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