Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cigar Boxes

Yesterday, even though I have driven by it many times, I noticed the sign over a local tobacco store for the first time. It was called "The Cigar Box." I can't remember the last time I saw a cigar box but they used to be everywhere, and we used them for so many things when I was a kid.

I remember going by the drug store and asking the clerk for a cigar box. They gave them away for free because most of the cigar smokers of the day bought them by the handfuls not by the box. The boxes piled up in the back of the stores and the storekeepers were glad to be rid of them. They came in all sizes and shapes and were made from cardboard or wood. Getting a wooden one was more difficult, they were the holy grail of cigar boxes and you had to either know the shopkeeper or be very lucky to get one of those. The most common cigar box of the day was the hinged top box that housed 25 to 50 cigars, depending on the diameter of the cigar and whether or not it was packed in its own container. I once had a slide lid cigar box that I used to store my collection of baseball cards. I held on to that one as long as I could and it was a sad day when it eventually fell apart. Hey, we were "green" before being green was cool.

We used to use cigar boxes to carry our supplies to and from school. The boxes that went to school with us got special treatment. We covered them with brown paper or oilcloth. It became an annual August ritual to find a box, cover it, and then fill it with new pencils, pens, crayons and erasers. Do you remember the smell of a new cigar box? I could never figure out why a new cigar box smelled so good and burning cigar smelled so bad.

One of the most unusual uses I had for cigar boxes was to house homemade radios. I had two of them. The first was a crystal radio made from a kit and the second was one that I made from a plan I saw in a magazine. It was a razor blade radio. No, I'm not kidding, the radio was made from a safety razor blade, a 2 inch long piece of graphite lead from a pencil, a hand-wound coil, headphones and a battery. You tuned the radio to the station you wanted to hear by moving the lead to different spots on the razor blade. As you can imagine, it was a bit tricky to find your favorite station. Mine was just to the right of the "G" in Gillette. I made the contraption when I was around 12. It was a mess on a table top but I could fit all the pieces neatly into a cigar box. It was my first portable radio and I carried it everywhere I went that summer.

I remember some of the brands of cigars that decorated those boxes; Hav-A-Tampa, Bravo, Casa Blanca, Dominico, La Flor de Cuba, Garcia y Vega, Muriel (Who can forget those ads?) and White Owl. Some of those brands have passed on into the
mists of time. But for me and my generation, those colorful and bright labels on the boxes tucked under our arms as we went about the business of growing up back in the day will shine in our eyes forever. Oh MY!

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