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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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CIGAR BOX OPENER. Cigar boxes had been around since the early 1800s, but they were not widely available in consumer sizes so few cigars before 1860 were purchased in or from a consumer-size box of 25, 50 or 100. In 1863 the need for money to fight the CIVIL WAR resulted in a series of tax laws that required cigar boxes into universal use. Every cigar after that date had to be packed in and sold from a box. Civil War revenue laws required tax stamps to be wrapped around the box, and after 1868, added other labeling and the provision that those stamps must be destroyed when the box was opened. That same year, the first cigar box opener was patented.

Cigar box openers were designed to slit the advertising label pasted on the end of the box, greatly damage the tax stamp, pry up the nail that sealed the box, and, if desired, pound that nail back in with minimal damage to the box.

During the next half century, a wide variety of shapes and sizes, some not patented, appeared. The first patented box opener looked like a pocket knife. The 1868 patent described it as an improvement on a box opener patented in 1864 by being designed specifically for constantly opening and re-closing boxes. Frequent opening and closing was normal at that time because the humidified showcase in which boxes were displayed open was still years away.

Catalogs from the manufacturers of these tools give suggest how they were used and distributed. In 1892, George Zorn & Company called a box opener a necessary “cigar dealer’s companion.” In 1907, the nation’s largest maker of cigar store cutters and lighters was the Cincinnati based Brunhoff Manufacturing Company, founded by Edward Brunhoff. He suggested the use of box openers as “a useful substitute for a business card - one that will not be thrown away.” That same year, the Erie Specialty Co. called a box opener “the cheapest and most useful article you can use for keeping your brand of cigars or your name constantly before your trade.” Brunhoff advised they “cost little, but help much in getting the goodwill of the man behind the counter.”

Unlike bottle openers that were given out free to the consumer, cigar box openers were an item for the cigar retailer and only secondarily for the cigar smoker. Most cigar box openers were imprinted with the names of distributors, manufacturers or cigar brands. Salesmen gave them to their retail outlets, some of whom undoubtedly gave extras, or those they didn’t like to use, to their box-buying customers. Miller, Dubrul and Peters was the worlds largest supplier of tools to make cigars, but by the 20th century offered only the simplest of box openers to the cigar trade. Brunhoff, Erie Specialty Co. and others offered a wider array. catalog.

The last box-opener patent was issued in 1916. The increased use of cigarettes, the greater use of tin and cardboard in box making, and the decline in the sales of cigars by the box all played a role in bringing the era of the traditional cigar box opener to a close. By WORLD WAR II, box openers had become a thing of the past.