June 17, 2014

Antique Cigar Label Art by David Beach

Here is a book I want all my readers to buy. Not because it has anything to do with collecting stocks and bonds, but rather because it is an incredibly well-done and beautiful book that every paper specialist needs to have on the shelf. You don't need to collect cigar box label art to appreciate the beauty and rarity. But by having the book (and being a collector), I suspect you'll be drawn to more than one piece of this wonderful artwork.

If you've ever looked at boxes of cigars in humidified show cases, you've probably been unknowingly attracted to one box or another. That was no accident. No matter whether you're a cigar smoker or not, even if you hate cigars, you've probably noticed the artwork on the inside lids of cigar boxes.

As collectors, of course, we're not talking about modern artwork. We're talking artwork created from lithograph stones in the 1870s through roughly the 1910s. Like the stocks and bonds we collect, cigar box labels run the gamut from "common" (meaning 500 or more) to unique or nearly so. Unlike our collectibles, cigar box labels appeal to a wider swath of people. With a greater audience, rarities tend to be several times more expensive than we are used to.

If you've been around the stock and bond hobby for awhile, you're already familiar with David Beach. As a major dealer in rare stocks and bonds, David has helped contribute to my project over the years, especially with some of the greater rarities that I would not otherwise know about. However, you may not know that David is also a very "big" collector and dealer of cigar box labels. All types of labels. All rarities. All price ranges.

I am especially recommending this book because I've certainly seen my share of guidebooks over the years, covering a huge range of subjects. From cactuses to currency. From guitars to collectible maps. I don't know of ANY other specialty catalog with such high-quality, full-color printing. The book is hardcover, 8.75" x 11.25" (22.2 x 28.6 cm), 160 pages with color on every page. (The book was designed by Wayne Baxley.) By my count, there are from one to twenty-five illustrations per page, totalling about 1,245 photos.

In general, David covers the types of labels that were used (or meant to be used) on the inner lids and the outer ends of cigar boxes. Although there are fewer of them in existence, he also covers labels used on tobacco crates and on tobacco caddies. He does not cover small cigar bands.

While cigar boxes from that period DO survive, many are in distressed condition as are many of the labels they carried. The labels that survive in good condition tend to be labels that were unused. Some were no doubt remainders, but the bulk of the super-rarities tend to be examples rescued from sample books. Like our collectible stocks and bonds, some also originated as printers' proofs.

David indicates the apparent rarity of every label. He uses an 8-point scale ranging from R1 as the rarest to R8 as the most common. He also offers price estimates, which as I have warned time and time and time again, is one of the most thankless endeavors any cataloger can possibly attempt. As David told me, the prices in his book were meant to reflect price predictions based on prices that existed at the time. Since then, however, prices have collapsed in most collecting fields including stocks and bonds and cigar box labels. I just checked several prices in David's 2009 book against prices he currently offers on his web site. In general, David's current prices are about 50% to 70% of his published catalog prices. That is pretty much the difference between prices in the second edition of my catalog and my current estimates.

Collectors of cigar box labels tend to specialize by themes and there are many to choose from. Some of the more popular themes include sports, patriotic, romance, fantasy, travel, music, police, firemen, military, ethnic, naughty women, risque, men's club, humor and famous people. Practically any subject you might think of. I'm, of course, drawn to train themes but there are definitely many other industries to focus on. .

I've shown the cover of Beach's book at the top, but if you want to see more, David has images of all pages in the book on his web site. Start here: http://cigarboxlabels.com/gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=40703. He also has posted an index of all labels in his catalog on his web site.

You may acquire Antique Cigar Label Art from eBay (search for "Antique Cigar Label Art" in Books > Antiquarian Collectible), Amazon, AbeBooks or Alibris. (ISBN 978-0-615-33036-5). The book is usually priced in the 25 to $40 range. Personally, I recommend buying the book directly from David. All authors like us appreciate hearing from our readers and, Lord knows, we're never going to get rich writing catalogs and specialty books!

Finally, be sure to check out David Beach's website at cigarboxlabels.com. Click on "Cigar Box Labels" at the top right to see galleries of some of his fantastic items.

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