While researching vintage cigar labels for this post, I tried to find an ethnically diverse cross-section of images. That was challenging, given the racial stereotypes prevalent in the period these labels come from.
Noble depictions of American Indians were abundant, yet degrading stereotypes existed in almost equal numbers. Cubans faired well, however, because as cigar makers they had more control over the packaging. I found only a few images of Asians — respectful or otherwise — and was surprised to not find more since travel to Asia was becoming popular in the era these images hail from. I also found that Europeans and people from the Middle East were generally portrayed in a positive light.
It was challenging, though, to find African American characterizations that didn’t make me cringe. I won’t describe some of the things I saw. Take my word for it; they were offensive. But that’s a reflection of the time the labels came from. Fortunately, I also was able to find some that presented African Americans in a respectful manner, and you’ll see those below.
Regardless of the subject, what impresses me most about these labels is that they’re such wonderful examples of fine art. It’s amazing to me that so much talent, time and effort was put into creating images that were eventually headed for the trash. Thankfully, some still live on in digital form!
Click a vintage cigar label image below to view and download a larger version: