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The Origins of the Cigar Store Indian - Articles Surfing


For some cigar and tobacco shops, a Cigar Store Indian sits outside the door. While this can easily be viewed as an unwanted stereotype on the Native American community, it is also a part of cigar and tobacco history. As some of these wooden Indians appear inviting, happily greeting any incoming customers, others appear defensive, as if guarding the store from shop lifters, thieves, and No Smoking ordinances. However they appear, they appear often: Cigar Store Indians have become advertising icons in the world of tobacco.

Just like candy-caned barber poles have become synonymous with barber shops, and talking lizards have become synonymous with car insurance, these wooden Indians have become synonymous with cigar stores, historically serving as an advertisement that tells the masses where tobacco is sold. Nowadays, however, the Cigar Store Indian is used less as a form of advertisement and more as a form of decoration, one that brings dimension and culture to tobacco's colorful past.

How They Began

When Native Americans introduced tobacco to the European populace, they adopted the role as spokespeople for the cigar industry, forever making their culture intertwined with the culture of tobacco. Because of this, a visual picture of an Indian was often used to tell the masses, highly illiterate masses, where they could purchase tobacco.

The 17th Century Europe marked the first time sellers of tobacco used a wooden Indian to peddle their product. However, because those who did the first carving had not actually seen a Native American, the first wooden Indians that sat on stoops of the cigar stores of Europe often appeared to be fanciful, fictional characters. Yet, by the time the wooden Indian made its way to America, it began to take on a much more genuine, authentic appearance.

How They Were Carved

While some Cigar Store Indians were made of cast iron, most were made of wood. The majority of them were made by artisans or professional carvers. Using axes, chisels, and mallets on white pine, the wooden figures were carved and then painted in a tapestry of folklore, fine arts, and popular culture. In addition to wooden Indians, carvers also produced wooden sports figures, politicians, high society women, and Scotsmen.

What They Looked Like

The first wooden Indians were both male and female, allowing the seller to choose which gender they wanted to help market their goods. When the wooden Indian craze first began, the female wooden Indian was used four times more often than the male wooden Indian. While female wooden Indians were occasionally carved with a papoose, and donned with a headdress of tobacco leaves instead of feathers, male figures were often dressed in the traditional warbonnets (a ceremonial headdress) of the Plains Indians.

Present Day

The height of the wooden Indian fad took place in the 1800's, with a carved statue standing outside nearly every tobacco shop in America. However, in a sad parallel to Native American history, the wooden Indian was often mistreated, damaged by passer-bys. Because of this, the beginning of the 1900's marked an end to this popular form of tobacco advertising.

In today's day and age, with a greater amount of people literate, the need for a visual advertisement waned, sidewalk obstruction laws, and high manufacturing costs, the Cigar Store Indian is not as common as it once was. Some still do stand outside cigar shop doorways, but many others stand inside museums, representing a part of tobacco history. Another reason for their disappearance is the sensitivity of the subject. While some people view a Cigar Store Indian as a stereotype, others view it as part of cigar lore and a laudation for a group of people who introduced the blissfulness of tobacco to an unknowing culture.

Submitted by:

Jennifer Marie Jordan

Jennifer Jordan is an editor and staff writer for http://www.whatsknottolove.com. At home in a design firm in Denver, Colorado, she writes articles specific to the finer things in life.



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