By Michael Eckles
Preparing to smoke a fine cigar can be a long and luxurious process that involves a series of steps and accessories to ensure it will smoke as intended. Two of the most important tools for the cigar aficionado, and for today’s collector, are the cigar cutter and lighter.
From the end of the Civil War until the explosive popularity of the cigarette in the early twentieth century, the cigar was king. Early on tobacco and cigars were sold in saloons out of a counter top showcase next to the bar. Over time, tobacco and cigars became so popular that Cigar Stores and Tobacconists started popping up everywhere on their own.
As with everything else, there is always someone who thinks they can build a better mouse trap. The Brunhoff Manufacturing Company, founded in 1890 in Cincinnati, Ohio, was a full service sign manufacturing company making Point-of-Purchase (POP) advertising items, including POP items for tobacco companies. They were approached with a request to come up with a POP advertising item that doubled as a Cigar Tip Cutter. It didn’t take them long to figure out how to create a cast iron base that would not only hold a cigar tip cutter but a frame as well to hold a cigar box label. Within these tip cutters was a clockwork mechanism that would wind up and activate as soon as you put the tip of the cigar in the hole. As time progressed they began making a mold that had the cigar advertisement embossed on the iron itself, therefore eliminating the need for a paper label that would somehow find a way to get soiled over time. On a side note, the company branched out to also make change trays, ashtrays, and paperweights.
Now, what to do about those unsightly and smelly matches?! Someone decided to use a small kerosene lamp and take the chimney off and replace it with a shorter open top globe. This was a great idea but it left little room for cigar companies to also use it as a marketing opportunity. The Brunhoff Company took no time in making a cast iron base that held a sign for the advertisement just above the base and then the kerosene reservoir with a globe on the top of the sign.
After a couple of saloons burnt down from a tipped over cigar lighter, it was once again time to build a better mouse trap; an electrical mechanism that ran off of a dry cell battery and when pulled forward, created a spark that ignited a flame. Of course they had a frame, sometimes on all four sides of the wood box, to hold a sign or cigar label. The lighters ranged from alcohol dips to electric devices run with batteries. They are sometimes cast as stunning figures or are elegantly formed lamps, using blown glass for reservoirs and glass globes or pierced tin globes.
Next came the production of the Cigar Tip Cutter and Cigar Lighter combination. These were beautiful nickel plated cast iron and nickel plated brass fixtures that almost took on a look of a piece of fine art. These were more often than not seen on the bars of high-end saloons in big cities like New York, Chicago, Kansas City, Denver, and San Francisco.
Should someone wish to begin collecting cigar tip cutters today, there are a lot available to purchase at every entry level. You can find a vest pocket cutter for as little as $25.00 to a trade stimulator model for $60,000.
I will end by giving collectors two very valuable pieces of advice:
- When hunting for treasures to start a collection or add to your collection keep in mind that Condition is, by far the most important factor in collecting antiques of any kind. If you would not be proud to display it in your home and show it off to your friends, don’t buy it.
- Never stick your little finger in a mechanical cigar tip cutter.
Michael Eckles is co-owner with his wife, Lori, of Showtime Auction Services located in Woodhaven, MI. Showtime Auctions conducts two auctions a year specializing in investment grade antiques. For more information and to view items available in their upcoming September 29-October 1 auction, visit showtimeactions.com, or email Mike@showtimeauctions.com.