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Darwin Correspondence Project

4.50 Cigar box lid design

A brightly coloured chromolithograph with a portrait of Darwin was intended to decorate the inside of a cigar box lid. It comes from a book of sample designs carried by a cigar salesman, and can be dated to the late 1880s or early 1890s, when there was a vogue for such designs. They were manufactured cheaply and in great variety by the firms of lithographic artists and printers which proliferated in New York and other American cities at that time. The firm that produced the Darwin design was F. Heppenheimer’s Sons, one of the leaders in the field. It was based in New York, but with branches in Chicago and San Francisco, as a surviving catalogue of samples dating from 1897 reveals. Often cigar box labels formed sets, for example of famous actors and actresses of the day, inventors, statesmen or poets; and this was evidently a sales gambit to maintain customer loyalty, as in  the case of cigarette cards. At the bottom of the print of Darwin is a quotation of prices for ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ versions of the design, the former being twice the price of the latter. It seems that a design for the inside of a lid ran the full width of the box, while the outside one was often a truncated version of it, featuring only the central motif, perhaps as a guide to potential buyers and collectors of the various sets. Generally these designs are known today from salesmen’s books of samples, as is the case here: they were more likely to survive in fair condition than those actually stuck into boxes.   

The commemorative portrayal of ‘Professor Darwin’ is based either on the photograph of him taken c.1880-1 by Elliott and Fry, which was widely known and reproduced, or on that taken by Barraud. The label may have belonged to a cigar-box series of ‘great men’ or ‘men of science’, but it is unknown to the author of this record whether others in such a set have survived, or whether other impressions of the Darwin design have come to light. However, its format is a familiar one in the genre of cigar-box decorations: a central framed portrait, with flags of all nations or other ornamental features fanning out around it. Indeed, the generic and somewhat incongruous nature of this surround might confirm that the portrait was originally one of a set. Nevertheless, the choice of Darwin for inclusion in such a project is a remarkable testimony to the honour and affection in which he was held by the American public at large; and it is likely that many more such Darwinian ephemera once existed. 

  • physical location collection of Professor William Friedman. An impression was offered for sale as lot 54 by PBA Galleries on 4 April 2007: 

  • copyright holder Professor Friedman 

  • originator of image artist unknown; the credit at bottom right shows it was lithographed by the firm of F. Heppenheimer’s Sons (successors to the firm started by their father Frederick Heppenheimer, who had operated from c.1872 onwards in a partnership with Louis Maurer).  

  • date of creation late 1880s or early 1890s. The firm of F. Heppenheimer’s Sons probably operated from c.1885 to c.1892. 

  • computer-readable date c.1885-1-1 to c.1892-12-31 

  • medium and material chromolithography 

  • references and bibliography  Information relating to the acquisition by the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University Libraries, of the records of the cigar manufacturing company Sauer, Farrell & Company; this archive included a specimen book of cigar-box labels created by Heppenheimer & Maurer, c.1878. Another large collection of such labels, including one of Heppenheimer & Maurer’s sample books from the 1870s, and sets produced by other firms in the 1880s and 1890s, is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Getty Images and the websites of some auction houses illustrate many examples of cigar-box labels. J. van Wyhe, ‘Iconography’, p. 146. 


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