History of Cigar Store Indian

The cigar store Indian or wooden Indian is an advertisement figure, in the likeness of an American Indian, used to represent tobacconists. The figures are often three-dimensional wooden sculptures several feet tall – up to life-sized. They are still occasionally used for their original advertising purpose but are more often seen as decorations or advertising collectibles.


Because of the general illiteracy of the populace, early store owners used descriptive emblems or figures to advertise their shops’ wares; for example, barber poles advertise barber shops, show globes advertised apothecaries and the three gold balls represent pawn shops. American Indians and tobacco had always been associated because American Indians introduced tobacco to Europeans, and the depiction of native people on smoke-shop signs was almost inevitable. As early as the seventeenth century, European tobacconists used figures of American Indians to advertise their shops.

Because European carvers had never seen a Native American, these early cigar-store “Indians” looked more like black slaves with feathered headdresses and other fanciful, exotic features. These carvings were called “Black Boys” or “Virginians” in the trade. Eventually, the European cigar-store figure began to take on a more “authentic” yet highly stylized native visage, and by the time the smoke-shop figure arrived in the Americas in the late eighteenth century, it had become thoroughly “Indian.”


The cigar store Indian became less common in the 20th century for a variety of reasons. New sidewalk-obstruction laws, higher manufacturing costs, restrictions on tobacco advertising, and increased racial sensitivity relegated the figures to museums and antique shops. To some, the cigar store Indian is considered the native equivalent of the black lawn jockey —a stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans; however, cigar store Indians are still made for sale and can be found outside cigar stores. One example of the meme still in current use is the Natural American Spirit tobacco company’s stylized image of a Native American smoking a peace pipe as its brand logo.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *