Decades ago I caught Hal Holbrook‘s one-man play, “Mark Twain Tonight!” in a theatre in Washington, D.C. (possibly Ford’s Theatre, but I think not). It was heaven. I knew what to expect, but it still caught me by surprise: There is no curtain. The opening of the second act is the lights slowly fading up. The audience keeps talking until, suddenly, there is an enormous puff of cigar smoke from offstage. The stunned audience gasps, then laughs, and at the peak of the laughter, Mark Twain treks on stage.
As a man’s reputation precedes him, so Mark Twain’s use of a cigar could precede him onto a stage, or into a room.
Once upon a time, Mark Twain was THE symbol of a good cigar in America — he always had one, after all.
And so, some enterprising cigar company created Mark Twains.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a Mark Twain cigar to smoke, in his honor, on his birthday? And remember, he shares a birthday with that other cigar conoisseur, Winston Churchill.
Advertisement taken from a caricature by Frederick Waddy first published in 1872. Mark Twain Papers, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
“DON’T FAIL TO SMOKE MARK TWAIN CIGARS.” Heckuva slogan. But not the only one.
Various cigar makers sold “Mark Twain” cigars from as early as 1870; probably the most famous, from the Wolf Brothers, were marketed from 1913, into the 1930s. Twain died in 1910, so it is almost certain that none of the proceeds from the sale of these cigars went to his estate (I’d be happy to report otherwise, should anyone stumble upon such information). Wolf Brothers Mark Twain Cigars were marketed under the slogan, “Known to Everyone — Liked By All.” It was a slogan Twain devised himself, to use on handbills and signs advertising his lectures.
Since it uses the same image, we might assume this sign comes from the same company that produced the advertisement just above. From a Cornell University Library exhibit on Mark Twain: “Compton Label Works. Smoke the Popular Mark Twain Cigars Sold Everywhere. St. Louis, [ca. 1877-85]. It is not known when this cigar sign was first issued. The portrait is engraved after an 1874 profile photograph that was used on Mark Twain Cigars advertising as early as 1877. From the collection of Susan Jaffe Tane”
Twain built at least three different fortunes. Had to, after he’d lost the first one, and then the second. It’s difficult to imagine Twain failing to seize on the marketing value of his own image. But those were different times.
From the Cornell Library exhibit: Mark Twain Cigar box. Pennsylvania: Wolf Bros., ca. 1913-1930. Cigar manufacturers have long capitalized on the public association of Mark Twain with cigars. While various brands of “Mark Twain Cigars” had been marketed since the 1870s, the Wolf Brothers did not register their trademark until 1931. The box is emblazoned with a phrase—“Known to Everyone – Liked by All”—which was written by Mark Twain. Curiously, the word “cigars” is absent from the box, emphasizing that it was Mark Twain, and not necessarily a tobacco product, that was “Liked by All.” From the collection of Susan Jaffe Tane
Were the cigars good? It’s unlikely a cigar could have stayed on the market for more than a decade without being of good enough quality to keep some customers coming back and asking for them specifically. I have not found any descriptions of these older, 19th century and early-20th century Mark Twains, however. (If you see one, will you call our attention to it?)
More from the Cornell University Library exhibit: Mark Twain cigar sign. “Liked by All.” Baltimore: Parker Metal Dec. Company, ca. 1913-1931. This is the sign used to advertise the five-cent Wolf cigars that bore Twain’s name from 1913 into the late 1930s. “Mark Twain” appears in prominent red letters, flanked by “Liked by All” and “5¢ Cigars 5¢,” a motto that echos the words emblazoned on the cigar boxes themselves: “Mark Twain: Known to Everyone-Liked by All.” From the collection of Susan Jaffe Tane
A modern incarnation of Mark Twain cigars exists, made by yet another company. Cigars International sells them on the internet:
The modern Mark Twain Cigar – image from Cigars International
Silky smooth 50-54 ring Churchills for 3 bucks.
If I cannot smoke in heaven, then I shall not go.
In addition to being a true American treasure, Mark Twain was rarely seen sans cigar. The man’s list of positive attributes didn’t stop there – humanitarian, novelist, humorist, scholar, plus world class jump roper and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master. Just kidding about that part. Mark Twain cigars also happen to bring an extensive list of positive attributes to the table. All smooth and mild, all tasty, all extremely affordable, all monster Churchill sizes ranging from 7”x50 to 8”x54. Draped in a silky Connecticut shade wrapper and generously filled with an aged blend of Nicaraguan long-fillers, Mark Twain delivers a flavorful, mild to medium-bodied experience. Notes of oak, cream, white pepper add to a rich tobacco core, completing a mellow but eventful 60+ minutes of your time.
For 3 bucks, these big boom sticks are the ultimate value-priced handmades.
Now, on to track down what kind of whiskey he preferred . . .
Caption from the Cornell Library exhibit: Mark Twain Cigar Sign. Advertising sign with slogan, “Mark Twain: Known to Everyone—Liked by All.” Pennsylvania: Wolf Bros., ca. 1913-1930. No evidence links Clemens to the production of Mark Twain Cigars, but his fame and popularity were used to market this product. This advertisement contains some “stretchers” as Huck Finn would have called them. Under the phrase “Known to Everyone – Liked by All” the Wolf Brothers have added their copyright statement, but the phrase was coined by the author and appeared on handbills to promote Mark Twain lectures in the 1880s. The artwork used for the portrait was based on a photograph taken by Napoleon Sarony in 1893, a photograph that Clemens was not particularly fond of and which he called that “damned old libel.” The sign also contains a script-like autograph that was not Mark Twain’s signature. From the collection of Susan Jaffe Tane