Here is an example of a typical vintage cigar or cheroot holder, circa late 19th or early 20th century. This specimen is either made from amber or an early plastic like Bakelite or Galalith. The original, fitted case significantly enhances the investment desirability of the piece.
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. It compels us to look fondly backward to a time in our life when things were simpler or better. Sometimes we can even be nostalgic for a time and place that we never experienced personally, like the cultural golden ages of pre-World War I Vienna or 1920s Paris. And few antiques are able to elicit nostalgia for bygone times, both experienced and imagined, like vintage cigarette holders. These luxury trappings were invariably at the fingertips of the wealthy, powerful and famous throughout the 20th century, allowing them to unapologetically smoke a cigarette and look great doing it.
A cigarette holder is a small, hollow, tubular device used as an intermediary between the smoker and his (or her) cigarette. Often made from the most precious materials available, vintage cigarette holders were objets d'art par excellence for the fashionable smoker. They embodied the highest principals of functional luxury for the liberated woman or urbane man during the first half of the 20th century.
The discerning gentleman who preferred to relax with the occasional cigar was not forgotten, however. Cigar holders, just as luxurious as their cigarette holder brethren, were also widely used from the late 19th century until the middle of the 20th century. In fact, this tobacco paraphernalia was almost a requirement in gentlemen's clubs, billiard rooms and studies - anyplace men of refinement might gather to enjoy a leisurely cigar.
These personal tobacco accessories, the cigar holder and the cigarette holder, served two main purposes. First, they prevented nicotine staining of the fingers or gloves. If the cigarette holder contained a filter, a fairly common occurrence before the advent of filtered cigarettes, it would also help minimize any staining of the teeth. Second, a cigarette holder kept second hand smoke out of its users face. This was particularly helpful in social situations, like formal dinners, high society parties or the opera.
Cigarette smoking and, by extension, the use of cigarette holders, was a quintessentially 20th century affair. At the beginning of the century, in 1900, it is estimated that only 4% or 5% of tobacco users were cigarette smokers. All the others smoked cigars, pipes or used snuff. But that statistic changed rapidly during the first decades of the new century.
Vintage Cigar & Cheroot Holders For Sale
The First World War, from 1914 to 1918, drove widespread adoption of cigarettes by men in the armed services all over the globe. Most belligerent countries during these conflicts, including Great Britain, Germany and the U.S., handed out cigarettes as part of their troops' weekly ration packages. The Second World War merely reinforced this trend, firmly establishing cigarettes as the preeminent tobacco product. These two global conflicts, perhaps more than anything else, helped popularize and normalize smoking during the 20th century.
While pipe, cigar and cigarette smoking were originally considered a distinctly masculine pastime, women's desire for liberation in the modern era led to their increased interest in smoking. Although regarded as unseemly and unladylike at the beginning of the 20th century, smoking also held an allure of illicitness via its association with jazz music, prohibition era drinking, underground gambling and even promiscuity. Indeed, it was the iconic female "flappers" of the rebellious 1920s who finally changed societal perceptions, legitimizing cigarette usage among women. Naturally, with increased smoking among women came the use of elegant and chic cigarette holders.
Smoking's popularity reached its zenith in the middle of the 20th century, from the 1940s to the 1960s. During this period, almost everyone from the humblest housewife to the most powerful politician indulged in a relaxing cigarette occasionally. And the eye-catching, portable and ever stylish cigarette holder was omnipresent.
Old Hollywood starlets, in particular, have given us countless iconic images showing bejeweled cigarette holders languorously hanging from their lips. Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Rita Hayworth were just a few of the acclaimed celebrities from Old Hollywood to smoke cigarettes, usually with a magnificent cigarette holder.
Gold Vintage Cigarette Holders For Sale
Some other famous smokers of the era were 007 creator Ian Fleming, musician Nat King Cole and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Even rebellious royalty luxuriated in smoking during this period. Great Britain's Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, was, scandalously, a smoker from her teenage years. But she often burnished her defiance through the glamorous use of high end cigarette holders.
In 1961 the celebrated movie Breakfast at Tiffany's was released. This notable film featured the famous actress Audrey Hepburn portraying Holly Golightly, a young, sophisticated New York debutante who sported a trademark long cigarette holder. This character perhaps best exemplifies the apogee of mid-century cigarette culture and its indispensible companion, the cigarette holder.
However, during the 1960s and 1970s, more and more medical evidence began to point to the dangers of smoking. The resulting decline in tobacco use was slow at first, and many beautiful and functional cigarette holders were created during this time. But, inexorably, smoking gradually became associated with cancer, emphysema and other terrible diseases. By the early 1980s, cigarette use in the West was dying, and with it the need for glamorous cigarette holders. An era had ended.
Vintage cigarette holders were made from a wide range of different materials, from the unassuming to the opulent. Amber, the fossilized resin of ancient trees, was one of the most common materials used. Another substance frequently encountered is tortoiseshell which originates from the carapace of large turtle and tortoise species like the hawksbill sea turtle. Ivory, with its warm tones and creamy, off-white color was also popular. The simple, black elegance of jet, a gem quality coal, was, likewise, a favorite material for vintage cigarette holders.
Amber Vintage Cigarette Holders For Sale
All of these prized natural materials were imitated by early plastics starting in the late 19th and early 20th century. The very first of these, celluloid, was occasionally used in the production of cigarette and cigar holders, but was discontinued as soon as other plastics became available due to its flammability. Casein formaldehyde, called Galalith, was another early synthetic plastic used in vintage cigarette holders. But perhaps the best known of all the early plastics was Bakelite, the trade name for phenol formaldehyde resin.
High quality vintage cigarette holders were often accented with the precious metals - gold, silver, or platinum. This would usually take the form of one or more simple bands near the middle or the tip of the cigarette holder. Vintage cigarette or cigar holders were even created from semi-precious stones like jade, lapis or agate, although this was less common.
Vintage cigarette holders were frequently made out of a combination of several different materials. In these cases, the organic gem materials and plastics mentioned before were reserved for the stem of the piece that would be held in the mouth. This is because these materials were thermally non-conductive and would keep the user from accidentally being burnt.
While humble cigarette holders that sold for less than a dollar were manufactured in profusion, the most desirable specimens today were produced by famous makers. Renowned luxury houses, such as Cartier, Buccellati, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany & Co. and Boucheron, created some of the most sumptuous examples. But the famous Russian jewelry firm of Faberge is celebrated as perhaps the greatest maker of luxury antique cigar and cigarette holders.
A special mention is in order for Alfred Dunhill, a noted English tobacconist who founded the eponymous firm of Alfred Dunhill Ltd. While his company started as a generalist British luxury goods company, it soon developed a sterling reputation as a purveyor of fine tobacco accessories, including cigarette and cigar holders. Dunhill vintage cigarette holders were made to the highest standard, as evidenced by the fact that the company received a Royal Warrant as the tobacconist to the Prince of Wales in 1921. Alfred Dunhill Ltd. cigarette and cigar holders can often be identified at a glance by their characteristic "white dot" trademark.
High quality materials are a must when looking to invest in vintage cigarette holders. Precious metals like gold, silver and platinum, are often found on high end specimens. Other precious materials like tortoise shell, amber, ivory or jade are also usually indicative of a high quality cigarette holder.
High End Vintage Cigarette Holders For Sale
Early plastics, like Bakelite, have a neutral impact on the value of vintage cigarette holders. Instead, it is the workmanship and any accompanying materials that determine the item's desirability. A simple antique cigarette holder made entirely from Bakelite will possess limited desirability, while a sumptuously crafted Bakelite specimen accented with gold and diamonds will be quite valuable.
Condition, of course, is an attribute of primary importance when investing in vintage cigarette holders. Modest wear, usually in the form of light tooth marks, is completely acceptable on the stem of an antique cigarette holder. This indicates it was used and treasured by a former owner. But cracks, chips, significant discoloration or other noticeable damage will greatly reduce the value of a piece. In addition, a vintage cigarette or cigar holder that comes in its original case is always more desirable than one that doesn't.
A compelling collection of vintage cigarette or cigar holders can be assembled for a surprisingly small investment. Relatively modest specimens start at just under $100, while more elaborate examples are usually just a few hundred dollars. Interestingly, even the finest pieces rarely go for more than $1,000, which allows disciplined connoisseurs to dabble in the high end cheaply. One need not smoke to admire a fine vintage cigarette holder or antique cigarette case. These luxury goods from yesteryear give both the aspiring tobacciana collector and objet d'art aficionado a window into a splendid, nostalgic past.