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From the PublisherFrom 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.