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  • Writer's pictureGary Cruice

Premium Cigars and the Cigar Store Indian

While not as common as in the past, the Cigar Store Indian is a part of American business history. We forget that once upon a time, not only most Americans but most people were illiterate. Kate Kelly has a wonderful website with short articles about different facets of American history. Here's her take on the Cigar Store Indian:

In the 19th century many people could not read, so store owners placed carvings of various symbols in front of their shops so passersby knew what was sold inside. A carving of a wooden Indian indicated a tobacco store; a red, white and blue striped pole symbolized a barber; three gold balls represented a pawn shop; a mortar and pestle indicated an apothecary.

The use of the carved Indian as a symbol in front of a tobacco shop began in England of the early 1600s as the ships from America began to bring back tobacco. The symbolism of the statues was because the source of the tobacco supply at that time was from Native Americans. By 1650 tobacco was growing in popularity, and in London, several cigar store Indians gave rise to what became a form of signage that was used for 250 years. These early carvings were made by carvers who had never seen a Native American so they were based on drawings or descriptions from those who had visited the colonies. The sculptures were sometimes called “Virginians” or “Virginnie men” to clarify what they represented.

According to Holt's, these first statues did not look like the ones we know. "Curiously, the Native American cigar statues, because European carvers had never seen any Native Americans, were generally black in color (some actually made of cast iron). They more resembled Africans with feathers in their headdresses. As time passed, the statues began to look more like Native Americans and, when the use of these statues arrived in the Americas in the late 18th century, they had become more 'Indian'.”

The Cigar Store Indian became so common that Hank Williams even made him the center of a hit song, Kaw-Liga - Kaw-Liga was a wooden Indian, standin' by the door

He fell in love with an indian maid, over in the antique store...

A customer recently gifted Bailey's our own Cigar Store Indian complete with a totem pole! She had always called him Kaw-Liga, but the guys have dubbed him Chief Fukaweh (from Blazing Saddles). No matter what you call him, he is a welcome addition to our decor.

Stop by and say hello, maybe get a selfie with our Chief!

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