Where Did The Cigar Store Indian Come From?

If you are a fan of cigars and do not shop at online cigar shops, then you no doubt have seen a cigar store Indian at one point or another. Myself I have seen hundreds of cigar store Indians in my travels but until recently had no idea what they meant or what they were for. I did a little bit of research and finally figured out what the meaning behind the cigar store Indian is.

The Truth Behind The Cigar Store Indian

The cigar store Indian is a three dimensional wooden sculpture, usually several feet tall, that advertises the location of a cigar shop. Originally the cigar store Indians were used because most of the general population was illiterate. Native Americans introduced tobacco to Europeans, and as such were usually associated with it. This practice began in the early seventeenth century and is prevalent today across the world. The original cigar store Indians were not only used in America but Europe as well. Most of the European cigar store Indians looked like slaves with feathered head dresses and were called “Black Boys” or “Virginians.” Eventually the cigar store Indians began to look more authentic, yet they always retained a highly stylized appearance.

Indians are still used today, however far less frequently. Back in early times virtually every cigar and tobacco store had a wood carved Indian out front. Today they have been relegated to more of a novelty item and are seen only in specialty shops. The reasons for this are several fold. One is that times today are much more racially sensitive and the cigar store Indian is seen as a stereotypical representation of Native Americans. The other is that most stores do not have the same amount of street space as they did in the past, so they are less apt to put out a large wooden Indian. Also there are restrictions on tobacco advertising so it can be much more difficult to get the actual Indian approved. Finally, these all wood statues can be very expensive to make and therefore cost is a significant factor in why they are no longer found.

As you can see cigar store Indians have a long history and still a small place in today’s society. While the may seem to be racially derogatory, in actuality the purpose behind them is simply to inform the customer of the shops wares, not to be a stereotypical representation of Native Americans. Hopefully this article has taught you something.