DECO CIGARETTE CASES
Cigarette smoking was never more fashionable and glamorous than in the 1920s and 1930s, and the cigarette cases of the time reflected this.
Smoking accessories have been made since tobacco was first brought back to Europe from the New World.
In the early days, snuff was the most fashionable way of taking tobacco and snuff boxes were the most popular accessories of the 17th and 18th centuries, though smokers did have tobacco jars and boxes from which to fill their pipes.
The 19th century saw an increase in the popularity of cigars, and boxes, cutters and vesta cases were made to cater for cigar smokers. Some believe that it was Bizet's opera, Carmen, written in 1875, that made cigarette smoking popular - the heroine worked in a cigarette factory.
Whatever the reason, ready-made cigarettes were the 20thcentury way of smoking tobacco, and cigarette cases the smartest smoking accessory.
Although cigarette cases had been around for a while, the art deco period, between the World Wars, was the pinnacle as far as their design goes.
Style was the keyword of the deco years and no accessory was too small or too ordinary to be overlooked by designers.
Smoking itself was a very stylish activity in the 1920s and 1930s, for women as well as men, and cigarette cases gave the designers' imaginations
something to work on.
Engine turning, a form of engraving done by machine, was a popular decorative device on cigarette cases.
The uniform, symmetrical patterns it created mimicked hand-engraved decoration from the age of the snuff box and also fitted art deco ideals.
Enamelling, another revival from Georgian and Regency times, was also a favoured design technique.
Women's cigarette cases were often made to match a powder compact and were very decorative. At the top end of the market, solid white, red or yellow gold cases were embellished with gemstones, enamel and coral. The sunrise and galleon motifs were often used, while floral patterns and oriental themes were also very chic.
Men's cases tended to be plainer and more masculine. Fine materials such as silver and gold were used. Design was often restricted to machine turning with, perhaps, a monogram, regimental badge or the insignia of a yacht or golf club as a decorative motif.
Look out for the work of Omar Ramsden, Bernard Cuznor, H G Murphy and Joyce Himsworth, all of whom designed cigarette boxes for the table as well as cigarette cases.
Sophisticated and rich smokers of the deco age would turn to France for really decorative cases. Designers such as Dunand and
Eileen Grey influenced others to use lacquer as a background for wonderful geometric patterns.
Rich textures were also a feature.
Dunand developed a decorative technique where lacquer was encrusted with eggshell fragments to give a crazed finish.
Other top French designers included Paul Brandt, Gerard Sandoz and Raymond Templier, all of whom excelled with silver, lacquer and enamel.
For the cigarette case collector, the 1920s and 1930s are the most interesting period. This is
largely because designs were so stylish, but also because so many cases were made.
Although decorative art nouveau cases from
around the turn of the century are greatly prized, they are fairly rare, while plainer cases from the same period are not so
In World War 2, lower grade materials were used, such as chrome in place of silver.
Cigarette cases made during and after the war tend to be inferior in quality and design. This decline in standards means
that later cases are generally of little interest or value.
Be warned: designs in the 1940s and
after tended to ape those of the art deco heyday. Do not be taken in. The way to
tell is to check the quality of the material and the standard of manufacture.
Designs were often poorly executed.
Fine cigarette cases are more usually found at
auctions, but dealers specializing in art deco may also have some good examples.
Shops and stalls that sell jewellery and other small objects may also have one or two examples.
Before buying, make sure that any enamel work is not chipped, scratched or damaged in any way, and that no gemstones or pieces of coral are missing. Check that the hinges and catches are in good working order.
However, if the spring-wire bands that held the cigarettes in place are missing or damaged, this will not lower the value of the case significantly.
Beware of inscriptions or engraved dedications inside or outside the case. They will reduce the value of the piece unless they are associated with a famous person.
An inscription to royalty or a celebrated stage or screen personality may increase the value. A Cartier case made on the instructions of Wallis Simpson for the then Prince of Wales in 1935 sold for more than £180,000 after she died.
Cases created by famous designers are rarely seen outside of auction houses and tend to attract premium prices. However, it should be possible to pick up good pieces for a fairly reasonable amount.
Matching sets, such as a cigarette case and a powder compact or a case and a lighter, are worth more than the sum of their parts, but make sure that the two pieces do, in fact, belong together.