It is believed that tobacco is commonly associated with Native Americans because the Mayan people of North America introduced the ritual of smoking to Christopher Columbus and his crew upon their arrival in the new world. Apparently, Columbus was offered dried tobacco leaves by the natives upon his arrival in the fall of 1492. As North America was further colonized, tobacco was sold in the colonies and throughout Europe.
The 17th century tobacco trade inspired a long and colorful history, which leads us to a discussion of the collectible works of folk art called the cigar store Indian. One of the earliest known cigar store Indians dates back to 1617. Shop keepers used carved figures of Native Americans - called Virginie men - to attract tobacco buyers to their stores.
Settlers at the famous Jamestown colony in Virginia grew tobacco based on instructions provided by the Native Americans.
Shown is a cigar store Indian at a shop near Immokalee, Fla.
The Jamestown settlement was the first English tobacco plantation in Virginia. Leaves were transported by ship and brokers traded the commodity widely in America and Europe. Tobacco has long been associated with Native Americans and using the likeness of a Native American as an advertising tool is how the cigar store Indian was born.
Tobacco sellers displayed carved sculptures of Native Americans, typically in full costume and headdress, in an effort to advertise their crops to a tobacco-using and widely illiterate public. As an easy way to advertise to illiterate consumers, tobacco sellers displayed carved images of Native Americans that eventually become known as cigar store Indians.
During the late 1800s, wooden figures of Native Americans were used on tobacco transport vessels at sea. They were attached to the front of a ship transporting tobacco from America to Europe.
Like the prominent display on the tobacco transport ships, tobacco sellers and shop owners decided to use these cigar store Indian figures in front of their store. Original cigar store Indian carvings were hand-made and uniquely designed. They were first introduced by merchants circa 1840.
Cigar store Indians are life-size tobacco advertising images and were collected widely starting in the late 1920s. By the mid-1900s, the carved and painted cigar store indian became less common due to higher manufacturing costs, restrictions on tobacco advertising and sidewalk-obstruction laws.
Today, these colorful and sculpted objects are widely collected and represent an important category of collectibles. As tobacco use fell out of fashion in the 1980s, the cigar store Indian grew in popularity.
Good examples with original paint in good condition typically sell for thousands of dollars on the antiques market. The record price for a cigar store figure is more than $.5 million dollars.
Cigar store Indians were made from sculpted or carved wood, molded plaster of paris or chalkware, cast iron and even constructed metal. These life-size figures remain a long established tradition for cigar shop owners and tobacco traders however the cigar store Indian have become sought after with antique dealers, art collectors and museums.
Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents appraisal events to audiences worldwide.
Dr. Lori is the expert appraiser on Discovery channel's "Auction Kings." Visit www.DrLor iV.com, www.facebook .com/DoctorLori or call 888-431-1010.