Insight | Cigarette Cases

Insight | Cigarette Cases

August 1st 2023

In today’s blog I thought it would be fitting to have a conversation about Cigarette Cases. Although smoking cigarettes has become somewhat left behind across the majority of the population collection the Cases is proving to be a very popular market. As we have purchased several cases of the last few months we thought it would now be a perfect time to talk a little about the history of the cases themselves.

Overview of the Prince Axel Cigarette Case

Silver & Gold Bi Metal Cigarette Case gifted to Prince Axel of Denmark 

A Cigarette Case is a strong and durable container used to store a small number of cigarettes. It is designed to protect the cigarette from being crushed or damaged in any way. The most common form of Cigarette Case is a flat box which opens on the seam opening into two halves and they are often made from metal. The Cigarettes are usually held in place with a spring of elastic strap and located side by side in a row on each half of the case. Some Cigarette Cases are simply sleeves to house a full pack of Cigarettes. It is important to note that Cigarette Cases should not be confused with a Cigarette Box popular in America in the early 20th century. In the United States the boxes were often called “Flat Fifties” because they would store 50 cigarettes at one time.

Inside of the WMF Silver Plate Cigarette Case

View of the interior of an early 20th century WMF Roller Skate Cigarette Case

It is not definitively known when Cigarette Cases were invented however emergence of models from the late 19th century are known which coincides with the ramp up in mass produced cigarettes after a machine invented by James Albert Bonsack came to market. The machine vastly increased the production of Cigarettes which went from around 40,000 hand-rolled cigarettes daily to around 4 million. This manufacturing process standardised the shape and size of a cigarette which was previously depending on the manufacture thus allowing cigarette cases to become increasingly popular.

Initially Cigarette cases were made from basic materials and had the sole purpose of protecting the individual Cigarettes however as time moved forward towards the end of the Victorian era Cigarette Cases became increasingly popular amongst the affluent and Cigarette Cases began to evolve. Cases were seen made from a range of materials such as silver and gold and would incorporate gemstones, engravings, and enamel designs. As cigarette smoking became increasingly popular into the latter stages of the Art Nouveaux period designs matched the period and cigarette cases were carried throughout the world. During WWI (and WWII) Cigarette cases were incredibly popular with solders as it was believed they saved lives by stopping bullets.

Overview of the Asprey Horse Silver Cigarette Case

Asprey of London Sterling Silver Equestrian Horse Cigarette Case by A Wilcox, Birmingham, dated 1950

Notable world renowned companies increased the popularity of Cigarette and these included Peter Carl Fabergé who gifted several to the family of the Tsar, Cartier, Asprey and Bucheron. In the first half of the 20thcentury Cigarette smoking was unanimous with much of the population across the world and as such cigarette cases became a status symbol and were often given as gifts to the highest of nobility including British Royal Family of which several are on show in the Royal Collection Trust.

As the 1920’s came around, soon followed by the Art Deco period the economy saw great expansion it allowed for further manufacturing processes and new materials offering new sleek designs with Art Deco accents. The middle class wealth also increased significantly and Cigarette smoking became so popular that nearly 75% of the population took it up, this only increased Cigarette Case sales. Through the great depression and WWII cigarette sales did not slow down and then pop culture entered onto the screen increasing the sales even more with the release of James Bond who was seen regularly on screen with case and cigarette in hand along with Scaramanga’s Golden Gun which was made up of a lighter, fountain pen, cigarette case and cufflink. Smoking sustained its popularity into the late 20th century when it became increasingly clear that smoking was harmful and was a cause of lung cancer. Couple with the dangers of smoking, larger packets which were not able to fit in a shirt pocket and the general lack of uptake caused for its slow demise into the 21st century. Further sales dwindled due to heavy warnings labels being applied to the packaging (which coincidentally increased Cigarette Case sales) and the ban on smoking in public places in 2007 in the UK. Today around 22.3% of the global population smoke tobacco (as a whole).

Silver & Enamel Cigarette Case Featuring the Bleriot XI Circa 1935 from our sales archives

Interestingly the demise of cigarette smoking did not affect the Cigarette Case market too heavily, of course sales slowed down however the collector’s market heavily took over from day to day use and now Cigarette Cases are sought after for the aesthetics, rare composition and makers. They have also become extremely popular presents for people still partaking in smoking as they are far more personal and meaningful often incorporating the owners initials. Whilst millions remain on the market the lower quality cases fetch little to no money on the second hand market whilst the rarer cases can make into the hundreds of thousands.

Japanese late Meiji Period – Tashio Period Cigarette Case & Lighter Double Pack 

At Jacksons Antique we often provide clients with Novelty Cigarette Cases with unusual scenes or materials. For further information please search Cigarette Cases in our search bar at the top of any page.