BILLY RILEY and BILL BUTTS cigar label advertising
by Dr. Gary L. Kritzberg
Two unusual and rare Pre-Mad advertising examples are the BILLY RILEY and BILL BUTTS (tobacco) cigar labels. Cigar labels came into being in Cuba sometime in the 1840’s-1850’s in an effort to stop British merchants from marketing inferior Slovakian cigars as Cuban. The cigar label was pasted on the cigar box as the second to last step in getting the cigars ready for market. The last step was to afﬁx the “cursed” government tax stamp. Both inside and outside labels were used with the outer label being the earliest example. The inner label became popular starting in the 1870’s with the introduction of humidiﬁed showcases. These showcases created the opportunity for the ﬁrst wide scale point-of-sale advertising.
The “Golden Age” of cigars was in full force by the turn of the 20th century. As incredible as it may sound, it is a fact that there were about 200,000 cigar brands on the market and between 20 to 30 thousand factories producing cigars! The Billy Riley label featured in this article is a pristine, colorful, and early example of an “outer” turn of the century label dating between 1895-1910. The Bill Butts cigar box and afﬁxed “inside” label dates a little later and represents another scarce example of early tobacco and pre-Mad memorabilia.