Friday, July 05, 2013

The end of the world as we smoked it

Barring a few urban safe houses ("cigar lounges") and private homes, you are unlikely to see anyone smoking a cigar in today's America. Those who enjoy the habit must meet in isolation, like early Christians in Roman catacombs.

I don't smoke and I can't argue the health case. Cigars are probably unhealthful. In other words, they are like millions upon millions of other hazards, including automobiles, mines where some go to work every day, power tools, tornadoes, &c. Danger lurks everywhere.

But cigars have gone the way of so many relatively innocent pleasures of a long-ago more relaxed era, including conversation and middle-class home piano playing. With the loss goes another: the glorious frivolity of the cigar box.

If they lower themselves to take notice of cigar box decoration, today's art connoisseurs would insist that it is not art but Kitsch. Whatever. It offers a window into another time and popular taste.

When I looked on Google Images for a few examples, I was surprised at the variety of styles.

A few associate cigar smoking with wealth and sophistication, as above. They seem to be relatively rare, however.

Not Kitsch in my estimation (below): delicate draftsmanship and refined beauty.

Others express the giddy romanticism of pre-Great War exotica.
Imagination runs wild, to put it mildly. Mark Antony was unaware that tobacco existed. Classicism was often invoked, although Greek maidens and Roman senators were not known for their smoking practices.

Fraternal organizations -- in this case, the Freemasons -- had their own dedicated cigar storage.

Cigar box designers were not inhibited about calling up images of satisfied prosperity.

Not to be outdone ...
Finally, let us not forget the inventor of the exploding cigar.


YIH said...

As ''commercial art'' goes, pretty impressive. The artists clearly intended their work to be remembered - even if they themselves were to remain anonymous and forgotten.
Didn't expect Alfred Nobel to be immortalized that way but considering what his name has been attached to lately *ahem* it's certainly an improvement.
On your Windows 8 tribulations; it seems M$ finally got the memo that desk/laptops are not phones or tablets.
Maybe it was due to the fact that their ''iPad killer'' has not exactly taken the world by storm.
And Windows Phone? All I say is yes, those DO exist - and no one cares.
They've finally figured out what Apple already knew; a Mac is not a jumbo iPad/iPhone.
So now they've had their banquet of crow it seems they are trying to fix the problem.
I wish them luck, not for their sake but for you and all the others that got stuck with Win 8.
As noted in the linked article Windows 8.1 (they ditched the 'blew' moniker and I think I know why) is available as a free 'beta' download. While I've had a fair amount of success beta testing, just be aware you're volunteering to be a test pilot - with all that entails.

Sheila said...

Enjoyable post - and lovely images. While I loathe the smell of cigar smoke (the only tobacco smoke I actually enjoy is from a few brands of pipe tobacco), I remember the cigar box art - my grandfather used to smoke cigars.

It reminds me of William Morris and the English Arts and Crafts movement - that things not need be merely utilitarian, and that even everyday objects could be things of beauty.

Rick Darby said...


Didn't expect Alfred Nobel to be immortalized that way but considering what his name has been attached to lately *ahem* it's certainly an improvement.

Why, it's his main claim to fame. He awarded himself the world's first Nobel Prize for inventing the exploding cigar.


Are you the Sheila who has commented here and at Mangan's, etc.? If so, great to hear from you again.

I used to smoke cigarillos (King Edward VIIs and similar cheap junk), once in a while treating myself to a Royal Jamaican.

Long after I gave over smoking, I was in Little Havana in Miami and visited one of the traditional small shops where women roll cigars by hand (though not on their thighs, like Carmen in the opera). The proprietor, one of Nature's gentlemen, gave me a cigar as a gift.

I enjoyed strolling around Little Havana smoking the cigar. It may be the only place in the country where it is socially acceptable -- even in stores. I disapprove of immigration, but Cubans aren't so bad.

Sheila said...

Yes, I'm "the Sheila" who used to comment at Mangan's. I am not moved to comment too often these days - I've pretty much said it all - and I even limit my reading/skimming because reality is too depressing to deal with on a daily basis.