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Tobacco-smoking, mid 20th Century


Impacts of cigar smoking on ordinary people

cigar smoking

Cigars may look like large cigarettes, but there are significant differences. This page explains from the viewpoint of what ordinary people saw of them during the early-mid 20th Century. It does not come from direct experience of smoking them because they were the privilege of the wealthy.


By the webmaster, based discussions with older people and additional research

Differences between cigars and cigarettes

Cigars are not just large cigarettes. Some significant differences are as follows:

Unlike with cigarettes, tobacco for cigars is aged for several years before use which is said to enhance its flavour, and certainly must contribute to their expensive price tag. Also unlike with cigarettes, cigar wrapping is not paper, but tobacco leaves - and these extend round both ends. So a major difference to smokers is that cigars have to be cut at the end before being lit.

While I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, I never saw anyone smoking cigars for real. Whereas I easily recognised the smell of cigarette smoke, I have no idea what cigars smelled like. In films, offering someone a cigar seemed to be what the villain did when trying to make a good impression. The 'someone' either declined or accepted to show that he was used to such treatment.

Cigar boxes

Cigars always seemed to be sold in wooden boxes which were presumably to stop them drying out.

Cigar boxes, unopened in original packaging, mid 1900s

Cigars for sale, photographed in the tobacconist shop of Winchester City Museum

Old cigar box, used for storing bits and pieces

Old cigar box, widely used for storing bits and pieces in the home, photographed at Rughill Steam Fair

In spite of their high cost, there must have been a good market for cigars somewhere because cigar boxes were widely used, even by ordinary people, for storing things in. Perhaps they were effectively indestructible, but as they always seemed to look rather tatty, cigar smoking may have been more common in earlier decades. The boxes were mostly wooden with sliding lids. I remember them well from my school days. They tended to be scribbled on with colour and to perform the function of pencil-boxes.

Roll-your-own cigars

I understand from staff at the tobacconist shop at Winchester City Museum that it was possible for people to roll their own cigars. The machine for doing this was quite large - see the photo - compared to the one for rolling one's own cigarettes.

Machine for rolling one's own cigars

Machine for rolling one's own cigars. photographed in Winchester City Museum

I wonder how much the machine was used and how the resulting cigars tasted. After all, cigar smokers were probably wealthy enough to buy the real thing, even if it did have to be on the black market.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.

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