April 10, 2023 – (KEY WEST, FL). The Key West Art & Historical Society is pleased to present its latest exhibition “Out of the Box: The Art of the Cigar Label”. The exhibition offers a compelling sampling and interpretation of nineteenth and early twentieth century inner and outer cigar labels, showcasing more than 40 lithographs related to the Key West and Cuba cigar manufacturers. The Society welcomes the public to a special reception on April 28 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Key West Museum of Art & History, 281 Front Street, to mark the exhibit opening.
With Cuba’s cigar economy booming in the nineteenth century, people sought similar tobacco-based opportunities outside its borders in order to make financial gains. Key West’s neighboring proximity to Cuba and its tobacco plantations, a mere 90 miles away, was the ideal place to establish cigar factories. By using Cuban laborers to roll Cuban grown tobacco, entrepreneurs pioneered the idea of making authentic Cuban cigars in America. Within a few years, Cuban immigrants arrived by the thousands to seek employment in Key West’s burgeoning cigar industry.
Cigar manufacturers sought out creative avenues to market their own brand of cigars to consumers. Factory owners turned to a handful of lithographers that were primarily based in New York City and Chicago. Layering up to 10 colors in a stone-lithography process, and even adding gold leaf embellishments and embossing, vibrant images sold cigars through romantic landscapes, patriotic figures, Grecian representations of women, Spanish and Cuban symbolism, and lush tobacco fields.
“In the early days of large-scale cigar distribution, cigar boxes sat closed on the shelves behind the store counters, with only simple marking to identify the product within,” says Dr. Cori Convertito, curator and historian for the Society. “The cigar industry grew increasingly competitive with the introduction of countertop humidors which allowed fastidious connoisseurs to inspect the shape, sizes, and colors of the cigars without concern that they could dry up. Colorful interior labels became fundamental marketing tools, allowing a brand to stand out amongst its competitors.”
Lithographic companies were given specific descriptions of labels they were to produce, and often sent one of their artists to the factory to discuss elements with the owner. The domestic clear Havana industry used popular Spanish themes or topics on its cigar labels and, in so doing, smokers came to associate any subject even vaguely Spanish with Cuban tobacco and cigars. Dozens of Key West cigar factories produced hundreds of different brands, each with its own label, many of these reflecting Key West and Cuban themes.
“Out of the Box: The Art of the Cigar Label” runs until early October 2023 in the Bumpus Gallery and is sponsored by the Florida Department of State, Division of Arts & Culture and The Helmerich Trust. For more information, call Cori Convertito at 305-295-6616 x 507 or email@example.com. Your Museums. Your Community. It Takes an Island.
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