Cigar box labels in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were not only amusing and beautiful to admire, they were a testament to the printing process of chromolithography and an important precursor to today’s methods of product advertising.
Labeling America: Cigar Box Designs as Reflections of Popular Culture showcases the unique collection of John Grossman which covers 90 years of cigar box labels and bands printed by four generations of George Schlegel Lithographers. What makes this archive unique is that the Schlegel Company kept meticulous sample albums and files showing an unbroken record of American graphic style evolution. The work of many other lithographers of that era either destroyed or irreversibly dispersed their work.
Now housed at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, the carefully cataloged Grossman collection gives a glimpse into life at the turn of the century, when over 5 billion cigars were being sold in the United States via boxes with colorful labels depicting everything from women, animals, and sports icons to actors, heroes, and political figures. This book takes these beautifully printed slices of American culture and combines them with the history of chromolithography into an interesting story of America’s changing tastes and graphic standards.
From the mid-19th century, when color printing became economical, retail businesses and manufacturers of all kinds used it to sell their goods. Few industries were as enthusiastic about color reproduction (particularly chromo lithography, or "printing in colors from stones") as American cigar makers. The most prolific creator of cigar box labels was a family-owned printing company that changed names several times but was run by four successive generations of men named George Schlegel, who produced hundreds of cigar box labels, box trimmings, flaps and bands. Their immense output is featured in John Grossman's LABELING AMERICA: Popular Culture on Cigar Box Labels (Fox Chapel, $39.95). The John and Carolyn Grossman Collection of chromo lithography, housed at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, includes 250,000 specimens of this early and often exquisite form of color printing - the high-definition medium of its day. The Schlegel archive's original art, proofs, embossing dies and litho stones are abundantly represented in this splendidly printed book. But the art is not the only point of interest. The text offers a brief history of how graphic design evolved from a sideline of printing into an integral profession. Among the most popular promotional genres, cigar labeling expanded throughout the late 19th century. "The popularity of cigars was big, but many of the cigar manufacturers were small," Grossman says of their inability to make custom labels. "The lithographers responded by creating myriad stock designs and titles that could be ordered by number." Schlegel's line of "sample labels" began in the 1880s, and many shown in the book are unaffiliated with any particular manufacturer. The art themes run the gamut from exotica (Monkey Brand) to erotica (Art Club, featuring a naked rump), from historical (Gettysburg) to hysterical (Tampa Fad, with a rooster smoking a cigar), from celebratorial (Mark Twain) to educational (Vassar Girl). Only a few are purely decorative. And some, like one titled "Two Friends" showing a woman shaking hands with a St. Bernard, are nonsensical. Yet all in all, they are amazing examples of commercial art. For anyone interested in printing history or aesthetic ephemera, not to mention cigar box art, this is a jewel of a book.
Number Of Pages: 320
Published: 1st July 2011
Publisher: Fox Chapel Publishing
Dimensions (cm): 28.0 x 21.6 x 2.5
Weight (kg): 1.54