Decorative Cigar Cases

As with much of tobacciana the growth of decorative cigar cases relates to rise of smoking. The first use in this country of the word ” cigar” (or ” segar ” as it was often written and pronounced) is ascribed by the Oxford Dictionary to the year 1735. The date is curious when one considers the use of tobacco in its various forms during the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for the Georgian era was the golden age of snuff-taking the equipment for which lent itself admirably to the characteristic extravagance and ornamentation of the period. The studied code of mannerisms associated with the taking of snuff stems equally from eighteenth century etiquette.

a 19th century Papier Mache Cigar Case featuring Wine Maker Vintner painting

A 19th century Papier Mache Cigar Case featuring Wine Maker Vintner painting. Sold for $175 (£136) on ebay, October 2018.

It must, therefore, be assumed that the cigar was introduced to England by a traveller from abroad, probably Spain. The making of cigars was practised in the West Indies at the time of Columbus’ voyage there in 1492, and had reached Spain by way of the Spanish colonies in South America.

A 19th century German Stobwasser lacquered papier mache cigar case

A 19th century German Stobwasser lacquered papier mache cigar case. Finely painted with the portrait of a violin player under a gilt border, named indistinct. Stamped inside the cover Stobwasser Fabrik Brunsieg, 13.25cm. Sold for £500 at Paul Beighton Auctioneers, May 2017.

Cigar smoking remained an exclusively Spanish characteristic until the end of the eighteenth century, when a factory was opened at Hamburg in 1788; the habit spread rapidly through most of Europe, but was slow in reaching England, largely on account of a heavy duty on tobacco which had been instigated by James I nearly two hundred years before. This duty was considerably reduced in 1829, and cigar smoking rapidly became popular— except among the female members of Victorian society. Indeed, the novelty of smoking was such that Hints on Etiquette, published as late as 1834, roundly condemned the practice in these words :”If you are so unfortunate as to have contracted the low habit of smoking, be careful to practise it under certain restrictions; at least so long as you are desirous of being considered fit for civilised society.”

19th century papier-mâché cigar case painted Venus

A 19th century papier-mâché cigar case in the manner of Stobwasser, painted with a scene of Venus and Amore after Correggio, 13cm.

By this time, however, cigar-smoking was firmly entrenched, at all events among the large proportion of the population who had no thought of being considered a part of ” civilised society.” Eighteen-fifteen was the year of change, for the unaccustomed state of peace produced by the victory at Waterloo in that year brought home a horde of soldiers who had spent many years in continuous service in Spain, where the cigar was a universal form of relaxation. The cigars smoked at this time were small, hard and strong. They were, in fact, what we should now call cheroots; the Havana cigar, fat and expensive, was a considerably later importation.

19th Century lacquered papier-mache cigar case with painted lady

A 19th Century lacquered papier-mache cigar case having a hinged cover and with painted decoration depicting a lady gazing into a hand mirror, 13cm high. Sold for £220 at Clevedon Salerooms, Nov 2010.

As the habit of smoking rose, as it inevitably did, through the strata of society, smokers began to feel that carrying their cigars loose in their pocket was good neither for the cigars nor their clothes. In about 1840 there began to be produced a form of case which became popular among the middle-classes.

A Chinese silver cigar case late 19th century

A Chinese silver cigar case, late 19th century, the lid with relief applied dragon against a planished curved rectangular body, engraved Katakana “Iramusa” above “Jungin”. 12.5 cm x 8 cm. Sold for £170 at Mitchells, March 2018.

This was made from two leaves of papier-mache, joined at the sides by means of leather gussets, usually with a separate internal case of thin leather or stiff paper. The vogue for papier-mâché was then at its height, although it had first been made in France before 1770.

These cases would be of little interest to the collector but for the decorations which were usually applied to the outer leaves (and very occasionally to the inner case as well). A wide range of subject matter was used for the pictorial decorations on the cigar cases. As well as papier-mache, cigar cases were created in metal, silver, tortoiseshell, mother of pearl and wood.

A 19th century tortoiseshell cigar case with gold and mother of pearl

A 19th century tortoiseshell cigar case with gold and mother of pearl inlaid decoration. Sold for £140 at Burstow and Hewett, May 2018.

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